Saymoukda Vongsay And Theater Mu Receive Prestigious Mellon Grant

Saymoukda Vongsay to Receive $200K



Theater Mu is pleased to announce Lao American poet, author, playwright, and installation artist Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay has received a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP). Vongsay and Theater Mu are one of 13 pairs of playwrights and theaters across the nation to receive the extremely selective grant. She will be a full-time playwright-in-residence at Theater Mu for the next three years.

“I’m extremely honored!” says Vongsay.  “Years ago Mu and its founder Rick Shiomi took a risk by developing and producing a first-time playwright — I felt valued and supported. I’m excited to deepen my relationship with Mu and artistic director Lily Tung Crystal. One of my tasks will be in helping to develop new Southeast Asian playwrights.”

“I think that there are so few of us out there and we need to be the ones writing our communities’ stories for the American stage,” she continued. “It’s one of the best ways for us to fight erasure and cultural ventriloquism. In order to be part of public discourse, we also need to be the ones introducing the questions and framing the conversations around what is required for us to be empowered.”

Mu and Vongsay plan to develop new theater makers by creating a pipeline program for Southeast Asian playwrights and Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) directors, dramaturgs, and designers. Vongsay will teach playwriting and storytelling workshops to Southeast Asians whose voices are often pushed to the margins, even within APIA communities.

“We’re truly honored to receive this prestigious grant,” says Theater Mu Artistic Director Lily Tung Crystal,  “and to collaborate with such a singular and innovative playwright who is a leader in both the artistic and civic communities of the Twin Cities. Mu will be able to not only develop and produce Vongsay’s cutting edge work, but also better connect with and serve Minnesota’s Southeast Asian communities.”

SAYMOUKDA DUANGPHOUXAY VONGSAY is a Lao American poet, author, playwright, and installation artist. She was born in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand and immigrated to Minnesota in 1985. Because of her unique background, her work is focused on creating tools and spaces for the amplification of Lao and Southeast Asian refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production.

CNN’s “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell called her work “revolutionary.” She’s recognized by Governor Mark Dayton with a “Lao Artists Heritage Month” Proclamation. She’s a recipient of the prestigious Sally Award for Initiative from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts which “recognizes bold new steps and strategic leadership undertaken by an individual or organization in creating projects or artistic programs never before seen in Minnesota that will have a significant impact on strengthening Minnesota’s artistic/cultural community.”

Her plays have been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Theater Mu, Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, Lazy Hmong Woman Productions, and Theater Unbound. Her plays include Kung Fu Zombies Vs Cannibals, Hmong Lao Friendship Play, Title IX, and Kung Fu Zombies Vs Shaman Warrior. She’s developing the musical In the Camps: A Refugee Musical.

Vongsay is a Playwright’s Center (2018) and Theater Mu (2011, 2012) fellow in playwriting, a Loft Literary Center fellow in poetry (2018) and children’s and young adult literature (2019), a Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art (2018), and an Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation fellow (2017).

She is the author of the picture book When Everything Was Everything (Full Circle Publishing), and her poetry, essays, plays, and short stories can be found in the Asian American Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Jungle Azn Magazine, Rubin Museums’ Spiral Magazine, Journal for Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, Saint Paul Almanac, and other fun places.

She’s received creative grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, Bush Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, Headwaters Foundation for Justice, Open Meadows Foundation, Intermedia Arts, Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, MN State Arts Board, and elsewhere. Her work has been mentioned by the NY Times, Pioneer Press, City Pages, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, TPT/PBS, Mn Original, Minnesota Public Radio, KFAI Radio, and more.

She holds a Master in Liberal Studies degree where her thesis was on creative cultural production and memory work of Laotian American artists. She co-hosted a podcast on Minnesota Public Radio and is a roster artist for COMPAS and Springboard for the Arts’ Artist Career Consultant program. You can learn more about her work at or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @refugenius.



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