Saymoukda D.



National Playwright in Residence announcement

MN Original feature

Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine feature

Pollen Midwest Essay


Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a Lao American writer. 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 refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production.

CNN’s “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell called her work “revolutionary.” Governor Mark Dayton recognized her with a “Lao Artists Heritage Month” Proclamation. She’s a recipient of a Sally Award for Initiative from the Ordway Center for Performing Arts which “recognizes bold new steps and strategic leadership undertaken by an 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 Theater Artists, and Theater Unbound. She is a Playwright's Center and Theater Mu fellow in playwriting, a Loft Literary Center fellow in poetry, a Loft Literary Center fellow in children's and young adult literature, a Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art, and an Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation fellow. 


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, as well as on coffee sleeves (Coffee House Press) and on metro transit (Saint Paul Almanac). 


She's received creative grants from the Jerome Foundation, Bush Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and the MN State Arts Board, and elsewhere.


She holds a Master in Liberal Studies degree and co-hosted a podcast on Minnesota Public Radio. She is currently a National Playwright in Residence at Theater Mu, a program of The Andrew Mellon Foundation. The award comes with a nearly $200,000 stipend. 



Keep up with her @REFUGENIUS.


*Artist Illustration by Brenda Tran



My first picture book WHEN EVERYTHING WAS EVERYTHING (Full Circle Publishing $18.95) is available now.



It is illustrated by Cori Nakamura Lin with a forward written by Bao Phi.



I’ve never read a children’s book where I have shared so much with the author, from the streets we lived on, the haircuts we had, the cucumber fields we walked, right down to the food shelves and the wars we come from. “When Everything was Everything” is a singularly important book for all of us who inhabit the Southeast Asian refugee experience, for those of us who have been poor, new to English, we who are perpetually perceived as strangers here. This book makes a home on the children’s shelves for the little girls we were and the women we have become.     

--Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer and The Song Poet


This beautiful and detailed unfolding of memories from a Lao American girlhood vividly captures the author's family life in gorgeously illustrated moments and scenes. Child and adult readers alike from every American cultural background, and beyond, will be transported into the intimacy, love, outsider struggles, and hard work, that was Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay's family's daily life in Minnesota.  
--Sun Yung Shin, author of Cooper's Lesson, a bilingual Korean-English illustrated book for children


A girl of color dreamscape, a refugeescape, that gives us "resettlement" in all its wonders and sorrows, its intimacies and dislocations, its early mornings and missed expiration dates, its Funyuns and bowl cuts.

--Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Curator for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and editor of The Asian American Literary Review


"12 Books About Badass Asian Women"

"Vongsay Centers Lao History and Perspectives"

Diacritics Review of WEWE



I am an emerging playwright. I started playwriting in 2010. I got my big break in 2011 when I was invited to participate in the New Performance Program, a fellowship program for new playwrights and writers who weren't necessarily playwrights to create new work.


On October 12, 2013 my first full-length play, KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS CANNIBALS (KFZC), opened on the same night as the Zombie Pub Crawl at the 210-seat Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. KFZC was a vehicle to inform American audiences of the secret carpet-bombing campaign ordered by the CIA during the Vietnam war. KFZC was inspired by the work of Legacies of War


The 3-weeks production closed with a 92% capacity with 54% of ticket sales from audiences 18-25 years old. KFZC is Mu Performing Arts’ highest grossing world premiere and was named Best Production of 2013 by L’Etoile Magazine. The production was mentioned in the New York Times and received high acclaim from City Pages, Vita.MN, TC Daily Planet, to name a few. The Star Tribune wrote,


Mu Performing Arts deserves credit for bringing this ambitious new playwright to their stage.


Since 2013, I’ve received grants to develop my work and my plays have been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Mu Performing Arts, the Consortium of Asian American Theater Artists, Theater Unbound, and Lazy Hmong Woman Productions.


I'm currently developing the musical IN THE CAMPS: A REFUGEE MUSICAL and two full length plays called KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS SHAMAN WARRIOR (a play exploring mental health in a post-apocalyptic world) and THE SOURIYATHAYS (a play about anti-blackness and racial/identity formations within a Lao family).




Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals

Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior
Watch the trailer for animated performance by playwright Saymoukda Vongsay, animated and directed by Matty Huynh, with music by DJ Kool Akiem and Justice Shroomcloud. Premiered for Smithsonian APA's CTRL+ALT culture lab, Nov12-13 at 477 Broadway, SoHo/Chinatown
Hmong-Lao Friendship Play/Lao-Hmong Friendship Play

Yellowtail Sashimi

Title IX 
Read full descriptions of plays here.
"Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior" artwork by Matty Huynh


  • National Playwright in Residence, Andrew Mellon Foundation (2020-2023)

  • PEN America Writer's Fund, PEN America (2020)

  • Messages of Hope Minigrant, Forecast Public Art (2020)

  • Emergency Relief Fund, Springboard for the Arts (2020)

  • Asian Pacific Endowment, Saint Paul Foundation (2019, 2018, 2016)

  • Creative Capital (2019 Finalist)

  • MAP Fund (2018 and 2019 Finalist)

  • Next Step, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (2018, 2015, Finalist 2013)

  • Travel and Study Grant, Jerome Foundation (2018)

  • Emerging Artist, Forecast Public Art (2018)

  • Knight Arts Challenge, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (2017, 2016, 2015 Finalist)

  • Building More Philanthropy With Purpose Grant (2017, 2016)

  • Open Meadows Foundation (2017)

  • Cultural Community Partnership, East Side Arts Council/Minnesota State Arts Board (2017-18)

  • Verve Grant for Spoken Word Poets, Intermedia Arts (2017-18)

  • Solidarity MN (2017)

  • Joan Aldous Diversity & Public Engagement Grant, Office of the Dean, University of Minnesota (2016)

  • Bush Foundation (2016)

  • Community Innovation, Headwaters Foundation for Justice (2015)

  • Community Arts, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (2015, 2014 for Twin Cities World Refugee Day)

  • Artist Initiative, Minnesota State Arts Board (2015)

  • Arts Access, Lazy Hmong Woman/Minnesota State Arts Board (2014)

  • New Media Project Grant, Independent Filmmaker Project (Finalist 2014)

  • Minnesota Emerging Writer, Loft Literary Center (Honorable Mention 2011)


  • Our Space is Spoken For, Twin Cities Media Alliance (2018)

  • Many Voices Fellowship, The Playwrights' Center (2017-18, 2016 Finalist)

  • Aspen Ideas Bush Fellowship (2017)

  • Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship, The Loft Literary Center (2017)

  • Folk and Traditional Arts, Lao Assistance Center (2015, 2013)

  • New Performance, Mu Performing Arts/Jerome Foundation (2012, 2011)


Awards and Recognition

  • Everwood Farmstead Foundation Artist on Retreat (2020)

  • Sally Irvine Ordway Award for Initiative (2019)

  • CONvergence Fan Favorite Guest of Honor (2017)

  • Coffee Sleeve Conversations, Coffee House Press (2016)

  • IMPRESSIONS, Saint Paul Almanac (2016)

  • Best Production of 2013, L’Etoile Magazine (Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals, 2013)

  • National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development Scholarship, DC (2013)

  • Southeast Asia Resource Action Center Public Policy Scholarship, DC (2012)

  • Joyce Foundation Scholarship, Alliance of Artist Communities Conference, Chicago (2011)

  • Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry, New York (2010)

  • Robert McKee Story Seminar Scholarship, Loft Literary Center (2010)

  • Respected Mentor Award, Lao Students Association, U of MN (2015)

  • Lao Minnesotan Artists Certificate of Recognition, Office of Governor Dayton (2012)

  • Change Maker, Intermedia Arts (2011)



Board of Directors

  • Ananya Dance Theatre (2014-2016)

  • Saint Paul Almanac (2012-2016)

  • Intermedia Arts (2011-2016)

  • Dispute Resolution Center (2011-2014)



  • Asian Economic Development Association’s Little Mekong Arts District (2013-present)

  • St. Paul Foundation’s Asian Pacific Endowment Fund (2011-2016)


Grants & Projects Juror/Panelist

  • Forecast Public Art (2019)

  • Next Step Grant, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (2019)

  • Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship, Loft Literary Center (2017)

  • Artist Neighborhood Partnership, CURA (2017)

  • Knight Arts Challenge, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (2017, 2016)

  • Sidewalk Poetry Contest, Public Art Saint Paul (2015)

  • Night Market Arts Program, Little Mekong C4/Springboard for the Arts (2014)

  • Asian Pacific Endowment Grant, Saint Paul Foundation (2013-2016)

  • MN Humanities Center Reading Together Project (2012)

  • Legacy Artist Fellowship, Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans (2012, 2011)

  • MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant (2011)

  • MN State Arts Board Artistic Site Visitor (2011-2013)


Professional Memberships

  • PEN America (2020-present)

  • Dramatists Guild of America (2018-present)

  • Minnesota Theater Alliance (2016)

  • Horror Writers Association (2015-2017)

  • Science Fiction Poetry Association (2014-2015)

  • Association of Asian American Studies (2014-2017)

  • MN Young Women’s Collaborative (2013-2015)

  • National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (2013-2014)


As Mentor

  • Lao Students Association of U of MN (2013-present)

  • Legacy Artist Fellowship Program (2011-2013)

  • Pillsbury House Theatre’s Chicago Avenue Project (2009-present)

  • Asian Pacific Youth Council (2010-2012)

  • MN Spoken Word Association Youth Slam (2002-2004)

  • Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (2003-2005)

Other Honors


  • Panelist and Facilitator, Center for Refugee Poetics, Smithsonian APAC, Philadelphia (2018)

  • Speaker, NCAA Inclusion Forum, Indianapolis (2018)

  • Keynote, Greater Than 7 Summit, University of Minnesota Twin Cities (2017)

  • Keynote, 4th Lao American Writers Summit, Seattle (2017)

  • Guest of Honor (for life), CONvergence (2017)

  • Panelist, MN Theater Alliance Conference, St. John's University (2016)

  • Panelist, MN Artists, Walker Art Center (2016)

  • Keynote, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum Conference, U of MN (2016)

  • Keynote, Power in Diversity Leadership Conference, MN State Colleges and Universities (2015)

  • Keynote, Women Empowering Women, Metropolitan State University (2013)

  • Panelist, Giant Steps, Minneapolis Convention Center (2013)

© 2013-2020 REFUGENIUS™ is a trademark of Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay. All rights reserved.