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WE WERE MEANT TO BE A GENTLE PEOPLE (+ EAST/WEST)

A memoir in text + image + song. In this unique work of literary multimedia, author/musician Dao Strom navigates the spaces between shores, mother and father, two cultures.

The daughter of writers, she fled Vietnam with her mother at the end of the war. It was not until years later that she learned her father was still alive and that he had spent a decade in Communist “reeducation” camps as persecution for his work as a writer in the pre-1975 era of Saigon. This rift—caught between the forward-looking mother who severed ties with the past, and the only tenuous presence of a father who could not turn away from the past—is the initiating ethos behind this memoir, which renders itself also as an experiment in literary multimedia, combining text, image, and song to express the nuances and buried emotions of aftermath. Strom juxtaposes documentary images next to family memorabilia to ruminate on the intersection of personal and collective histories. She travels between the Pacific coast and the Champa ruins of Vietnam to capture original photographic images that re-imagine folk myths. Her autobiographical essays are candid at the same time they are enigmatic, playing with white space and the shapes the text makes on the page.

The book is accompanied by a music album, East/West, which explores two “geographies.” The book's "chapters" correspond with the song titles of the music album, and lyrics are interwoven amid the essays and fragments. The result is a multidimensional work that draws disparate “voices” together into one confluent, challenging whole. The 10-song album can be streamed here.

Genre: Poetry/Creative Nonfiction/Image-Text // Music

200 pages // 10 songs
8x8 in. / Paperback // Digital Album
Pub Date: 10/20/2015
Publisher: Press Otherwise/Paperdoll Works
ISBN: 978-0-990-95551-1

This project received funding from a Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) Project Grant & an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship.

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This title can also be ordered through Small Press Distribution.


Die-cut gatefold cover, limited art edition, in white

Die-cut gatefold cover, limited art edition, in white

But rather than reject...fragments as incomplete, Strom embraces the fragment as the smallest reliable unit of truth. The result — a collage of images, memories, and moments — embodies the struggle to shape her own identity. Rather than edit out her confusion, Strom places uncertainty at the center of her project, using photographs, footnotes, formatting, and fonts to recreate contradiction on the page... this forces the reader to contend with the same conflicting voices as the author.
— LA Review of Books
We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People is a beautiful memoir and a captivating cultural history about the stories we tell and the ways we may or may not survive our histories. It’s a haunting and challenging read that may not offer answers to anyone’s origin story (Strom’s or her readers’). But the best of art—and the most alive of writings—is not about answers so much as it is about witness.
— diaCRITICS.org
Dao Strom’s We Were Meant to be a Gentle People is an astounding work of fracture and reconciliation. Filled with provocative images, sharp juxtapositions, and eloquent prose, this poetic memoir challenges our assumptions about aesthetic form and preconceived racialized, gendered notions of Vietnamese refugees in America. So many of Strom’s lines and lyrics and pictures are already blazing through my head like lost stars searching for a sky. A poignant and powerful work.
— Bao Phi, poet (Song I Sing)
A remarkable polyphony of words, sounds, and images, spanning 188 pages of an 8 x 8 art book and 2 CDs (titled East and West), this text is literally much more than a novel. It is a work that reverberates with all the ontological desire of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, all the bleary longing of Anne Carson’s Nox, and, just as with these texts, it is an act of raw assemblage, an arrangement of fragments infused with their need to fill some ghostly outline.
— Entropy Magazine

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dao Strom is the author of Grass Roof, Tin Roof, a novel, and The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys, a collection of novellas. She is also a writer of songs. She lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a 2016 Creative Capital Artist. Her work has also received support from the Regional Arts Culture & Council, Oregon Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, James Michener Fellowship, and the Nelson Algren Award.