Putsata Reang to Visit Albion College Tomorrow: ‘My Story is Out There at This Particular Time for a Reason’

Putsata Reang gives a reading in Seattle. Reang is an author and journalist coming to Albion tomorrow to talk about her memoir, “Ma and Me” (Photo courtesy of Putsata Reang).

Author and journalist Putsata Reang will be visiting Albion College tomorrow as part of the Office of Belonging’s Social Justice Lecture Series. There will be a meet and greet with Reang starting at 6 p.m. in Upper Baldwin, followed by an open dialogue at 7:30 p.m. For those interested in attending Reang’s talk tomorrow, the Office of Belonging requests RSVPs be submitted here. 

Reang’s debut memoir, “Ma and Me,” won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association prize for Nonfiction. Having worked as a journalist in over a dozen countries, Reang credits her career in part to growing up in a family where there was a tradition of oral storytelling.

“My mom used to tell us stories, myths and folktales about Cambodia, this place that felt so far away to me,” Reang said. “She painted such an incredible picture of this other world.”

Reang’s family emigrated from Cambodia to Corvallis, Ore. when she was just over one year old. When she was 30, Reang moved back to Cambodia to work as a journalist.

“It was almost as if my career as a journalist – that I would grow up the daughter of a storyteller to become a professional storyteller myself – as if that was foretold, in a way,” Reang said.

After several years, Reang left her career as an international journalist to be with her now-wife in Seattle. 

“When I made the decision to move to Seattle to be with my partner, my mom had such a hard time with that,” Reang said. “She felt that I was throwing away my career, she couldn’t understand why I was moving in with a woman, she didn’t understand what it meant to be gay.” 

Upon moving to Seattle, Reang decided to start writing a book – something she said she had been wanting to do for a while. 

Reang took a personal essay writing class at a writing center in Seattle, where the teacher told her to write about a conflict. Reang recalled her partner’s response when she told her about the assignment:

“My partner just kind of looks at me straight in the eyes, and I knew without her having to say a word what she was thinking,” Reang said. “And I told her, ‘absolutely not, there’s no way I’m gonna write about my mom and I in conflict over me being gay.’” 

Reang ended up writing just that, a personal essay about her and her mother. 

“I tried every which way to avoid writing about that but I couldn’t, because that was the thing that felt urgent and pressing at the moment,” Reang said.

According to Reang, upon her partner and sister’s “nagging,” she submitted the essay to the New York Times’ Modern Love column. Reang said she forgot about the submission until four months later when she got a call from the New York Times expressing interest in her essay.

“When the New York Times calls, you don’t really say no,” Reang said. “That kind of started the journey of writing the memoir that is out right now, ‘Ma and Me,’ which is exactly the thing that I didn’t want to write.”

Despite not wanting to write about her and her mother initially, Reang said she believes there are certain moments in time when a particular story is meant to be told.

“It’s not an accident that my book was published at a moment in our own country where we have a record number of book bans,” Reang said. 

Reang also noted that many banned books are either written by LGBTQ+ authors or include LGBTQ+ themes or characters, adding that she believes it’s no mistake that her book has come out at a time of a record level of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

“I think that things happen for a reason,” Reang said. “My story is out there at this particular time for a reason.”

Reang said she believes that sharing stories is the key to shifting our societal focus to our commonalities rather than our differences.

“If all of us could find the vulnerability to tell our personal stories, that might just be the thing to swing the pendulum the other way,” Reang said. 

Reflecting on the harm being caused in the U.S., Reang said that anti-Asian and other hate crimes are at an all-time high. She said that her heart “kind of cleaves in two” when she turns on the news and sees that, “Oh, there’s a shooting at a gay club in Colorado Springs, Colorado.” 

“My queer community is being murdered simply for the fact that they wanted to dance,” Reang said. “I turn on the news and there’s a shooting at an Asian nail salon in Atlanta, Georgia, and my community is being killed for the simple fact of our brown skin.”

According to Reang, humans have to find the path toward healing the harm that’s been done.

“As humans, we’re not meant to hurt each other, and yet that is what we’re actively doing every single day,” Reang said. 

In recognizing that college students are at an age where they can vote and make a difference, Reang said she “can imagine that young people are feeling the impacts of all the harm adults around them are doing right now.”

Reang said she wants to engage in conversation with students about how societal issues affect their own lives, and maybe inspire them to take some action.

“I’m hoping that people will come to my talk to not just hear my story but also to perhaps get some sort of inspiration or feel some connection with the need to try to make our country better and to improve relations between people,” Reang said. 

About Jocelyn Kincaid-Beal 7 Articles
Jocelyn Kincaid-Beal is a sophomore from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They are an English major who's interested in all types of writing, and are exploring their options through being an editor of the Albion Review and a volunteer writer on the Pleiad. Contact Jocelyn via email at JAK17@albion.edu.

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