UPDATED:  February 27, 2011 10:42 PM
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Memoir launch to benefit the Lao Heritage Foundation

By: Cathy Crenshaw Doheny

International award-winning poet, author, and entrepreneur Mali Phonpadith will launch her memoir, “A Million Fireflies,” at a special event this month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Phonpadith will be joining best-selling author and entrepreneur Misti Burmeister, who also will be launching her memoir “Hidden Heroes.” Those attending can meet the authors, get copies of the books and have them autographed in person, as well as network with community leaders and local entrepreneurs.

Entitled "Heroes and Fireflies: Supporting Local Charities," the May 24th event will benefit two non-profits whose missions closely align with the content of the books – The Lao Heritage Foundation (LHF) and The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurs. 20% of all net profits from the event will go to support these two charities.

“The Lao Heritage Foundation is grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of the two authors, Mali and Misti. It is a true reflection of the giving spirit of both ladies,” says LHF president Niphason Souphom.

A Washington, D.C. based non-profit, LHF’s mission is to preserve and promote Lao culture through the arts

. “LHF is important to me because I struggled with my own sense of identity growing up. The organization has helped me to understand my heritage, as well as to appreciate the person I am today as a Lao-American woman,” says Phonpadith.

She explains: “The founding members’ biggest concern is the future generation. How will they fully understand their heritage if the traditional arts and music are dying with our great scholars and masters- many of whom were either killed during and after the Vietnam War or escaped the country to unknown destinations? It's a race against time to find these masters, bring them here to the United States and record their knowledge and talents. They must teach our generation, so that we may preserve and transmit our heritage and the beauty of the arts for future generations of Lao descendants and for the world.”

Now a resident of Falls Church, VA, Phonpadith was born in Laos and lived there until she was 4-years-old. Her family fled the country during the Vietnam War era because her father was blacklisted. Her family escaped to a refuge camp in Thailand and one year later, a Unitarian Church in Maryland sponsored their entire family of seven to become Permanent Residents of the United States.

Twelve years later, her first poem, “I Came on my Own,” was published by Iliad Press. Soon after, seven other poems were published by internationally-recognized affiliates of The International Society of Poets and The London Press. In 2007, Phonpadith was nominated Best Poet of the Year by The International Society of Poets.

“I began writing at 12 years of age when I started having recurring dreams about the night my family and I escaped Laos; dreams that were actually my repressed memories of what was my reality,” she says. “I don't have a single memory of my childhood until about age nine- perhaps because I had too much trauma and change at such a young age. When those dreams came to me every night for almost two months, I knew something was wrong. I told my mother about them and she was so emotional- telling me I was recalling the night of our escape. My mother told me that I was riding on my grandmother's hip and that my sisters and I were given small doses of sleeping pills so we wouldn't make too much noise while trying to escape during the night. That's why my memory was so fuzzy. If something as important as that memory could get lost somewhere for so long, so could other meaningful moments of my life. So, I began to journal about all of my important moments and emotions.”

As her first book, “A Million Fireflies” takes readers on a journey of love and loss, incorporating both poetry and real life stories. The memoir chronicles her family’s journey from Laos and Phonpadith’s childhood in America as she struggled to balance two cultures. In adulthood, her journey turns inward as she endures the death of her fiancé, father and other loved ones and celebrates intense friendships and her life as a writer.

“The greatest challenge in writing ‘A Million Fireflies’ was going back to dark moments and reliving them. Although painful at times, the writing process was also quite healing and it allowed me to release so many emotions I had locked up that I could now take the time to work through. It also allowed me to look back and celebrate how far I have journeyed,” she remarks.

A graduate of the University of Maryland in College Park, Phonpadith holds three degrees – one in marketing, one in international business, and another in Spanish. In addition to being a celebrated writer, she has over 12 years of marketing, sales, and business development experience with such companies as Passport Automotive, Century 21 Realty, Universal Systems & Technology, Inc., and Izar Associates, Inc. She ran a financial services practice with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network for seven years where she created and implemented risk management strategies for hundreds of clients, building a network of more than 3,500 professionals and entrepreneurs. In addition, Phonpadith co-founded a company called Reflections Within, LLC, which includes a greeting card line based on her poetry and prose. Early this year, she launched Mali Creative, a marketing and messaging company that helps entrepreneurs and executive management teams effectively market their core values, speaking directly to the consumer.

To find Phonpadith’s publications, visit www.synergypressonline.com.

"Heroes and Fireflies: Supporting Local Charities” will be held on May 24, 2011 from 4:30-7:30pm at The National Press Club, 529 14th Street Northwest, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C., 20045. For more information, visit www.heroesandfireflies.com.

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