Andre Yang, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing student, is California State University, Fresno’s 2011 recipient of a William R. Hearst/California State University Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement, the CSU’s highest recognition.
The award is given to just one student at each of the 23 CSU campuses. Each must have financial need, experienced personal hardship and model exemplary academic performance, community service and personal achievements.
Yang’s parents arrived in the United States as refugees in 1979. Without English-language and job skills the family, which included him and his six siblings, struggled financially in economically depressed Southeast Fresno.
His first language was Hmong and Yang persevered through low scores on standardized exams to become proficient in English. It paid off. After graduating from Edison High School in 1999, Yang became the first in his family to go to college when he enrolled at the University of California, Davis.
But in his third year, he was diagnosed with Minimal Change Disease, a kidney malfunction that allowed his body to be saturated with water. Yang was on the verge of needing dialysis treatment, when a last-resort intravenous procedure succeeded in helping his body expel fluid. In just five days, he dropped from 218 pounds to 145.
“I was miraculously cured,” Yang said. “My doctors said they never understood why I was cured so easily. But overcoming that disease helped give me a new outlook on life, teaching me that sometimes things don’t need to make sense for us to make the most of life.”
The disease robbed Yang of a year in pursuit of his baccalaureate degree. He enrolled at Fresno State and graduated magna cum laude in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies. He also discovered a passion for creative writing.
He entered the university’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program in 2008 and became a Philip Levine Scholar, Provost’s Scholar and graduate/editorial assistant for Fresno State’s internationally distributed literary magazine, The Normal School.
He was awarded a Kundiman Fellowship for emerging writers and participated in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop and the Napa Valley Writers Conference.
In 2004, Yang co-founded the Hmong American Writers Circle, a grassroots group that conducts weekly public creative-writing workshops, organizes literary readings and strives to build a Hmong literary culture.
“This effort has special significance because Hmong did not have a writing system until the 1950s. Many Hmong refugees to the United States could speak, but not write the language,” he said.
Yang and other Writers Circle members co-edited California’s first Hmong literary anthology, “How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology,” published in August (Heyday Books/$16.95).
A launch reading will be held Oct. 21 at the Tower Theatre in Fresno. The editorial board will read at a Fresno Poets Association meeting Sept. 29 at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library. The Fresno Poets Association is now part of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.
Yang is a member of the Chicano Writers and Artists Association and the San Joaquin Literary Association. He plans to pursue a career as a university professor and a poet, helping others follow in his footsteps and documenting the Hmong-American experience.
The Hearst/CSU Trustees scholars will be honored at 2:30 p.m, Tuesday, Sept. 20, in Long Beach at a ceremony that will be part of the CSU’s 50th anniversary celebration, which begins at 1 p.m. at Dumke Auditorium (401 Golden Shore Ave.).
The William Randolph Hearst Foundation endowed the scholarship fund in 1984. It was supplemented, beginning in 1999, with trustee contributions and private donations. The Hearst/CSU Trustees program awards $3,000 to each student.
For more information, http://www.calstate.edu/pa/News/2010/release/Hearst2010.shtml.