Seattle poet and educator Kim-An Lieberman was a contributing writer to the International Examiner. She recently passed away after a long struggle with cancer. Our thoughts go out to her family and friends. Below is a brief biography and a poem she wrote for her grandmother accompanied by a preface. The poem originally appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and is being reprinted here with their permission. Thanks Kim-An for your poetry and your kind spirit.
—Alan Chong Lau, IE Arts Editor
A memorial service for Kim-An Lieberman will be held on Monday, December 30 at 3:00 p.m. at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Kim-An Lieberman Memorial fund at The Evergreen School to offer financial aid for students in need. Visit KALscholarship.com to donate.
Kim-An Lieberman was a writer of Vietnamese and Jewish American descent, born in Rhode Island and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Breaking the Map, her debut collection of poetry. was published in 2008 by Blue Begonia Press with another book, In Ortbit forthcoming from the same publisher. Her work appears in numerous magazines, journals, and anthologies including My Viet: Vietnamese American Literature in English, 1962 -Present as edited by Michele Janette (University of Hawai’i Press, 2011). She was the recipient of awards from the Jack Straw Writers Program and the Mellon Foundation for the Humanities and was a finalist for the 2009 Stranger Genius Awards. She has read at festivals and venues across the country and taught at every level from kindergarten to college, most recently at Seattle’s Lakeside School. In an obituary that appeared in the Seattle Times, her family wrote the following: “Brillant and disciplined, Kim-An was multilingual, fluent in English, Vietnamese, and French, and a skilled pianist. She stayed close to her Vietnamese and Jewish roots, exploring and articulating issues of identity in her writing and teaching. She was an ardent advocate for the environment and for animals. And though she had an encyclopedic knowledge of Seattle—expecially of where and what to eat—her happiest moments were at home, surrounded by the family and children she adored, with a cat or two nestled in her lap. She inspired us with her resilience and humor, even in the darkest hours of her illness. We will never forget her: the strongest spirit, the finest mind, the largest heart.”
Preface written by Kim-An Lieberman
Although most of what I write is not direct autobiography, I do tend to start from personal experience. “After Ten Years in America …” began with a childhood memory of my grandmother making dozens of banh chu’ng—sticky-rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves and layered with mung beans, pork, and fish sauce—to celebrate the Vietnamese Lunar New Year at her house in suburban Seattle. Each cake was pretty hefty and needs to be boiled for almost a full day. When my grandmother discovered that she didn’t have enough room to cook on her stovetop, she built a makeshift cauldron in her basement using a metal garbage can and firewood. Improvisation and all, she won praise for the most authentic-tasting banh chu’ng in town. This was a huge source of pride for my grandmother, who had left behind almost everything authentically hers when she fled wartime Saigon for the United States in the 1970s. It’s also an important image for me, proof that my grandmother and so many others like her aren’t just victims passively dislocated in the sweep of history. They are resourceful and creative survivors who carry old traditions to their new homes, moving beyond circumstance to remake their lives in meaningful ways.
After Ten Years in America, My Grandmother Decides to Celebrate Tet
By Kim-An Lieberman
Because her life had already ended once, my grandmother
bought Three Crabs fish sauce on sale by the supermarket cartful,
stuffed her purse with glossy coupons for rice, beef, bok choy, eggs.
Because her new clock barreled forward from January, she grabbed
free calendars in Little Saigon, rouged her walls with pageant queens
and plastic pink azaleas against fake cerulean skies, counted down
the little moon days waxing and waning. Because her new year
arrived without fanfare, she fashioned a firepot from a steel trashcan,
wrapped bricks of sticky-rice in banana leaf, boiled them green.
Because her grandchildren wrinkled noses at mung bean and pork,
she dipped their xoi in sugar, filled their teacups with warm milk.
Because her own fate remained elusive, she lit the tabletop incense
and stacked a dozen satsumas and persimmons in the ancestors’ bowl
to fend off regret, just in case a few souls wandered through
as once she did, too far from home to feast but hungry all the same.