Sokunthary Svay

Sokunthary Svay (Poetry) | New York, NY

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Sokunthary Svay is a Pushcart-nominated Khmer writer and musician from the Bronx, New York. She and her family were refugees from Cambodia who survived the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. She is the poetry editor for Newtown Literary. A founding member of the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association (CALAA), her work has been published internationally in Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, London and Australia. Svay was a subject in New York Magazine’s “Living in a Sanctuary City” portfolio and featured in the New York Immigration Coalition’s This is Our NY, broadcast in Times Square. Additional writing credits include Homelands: Women’s Journeys Across Race, Place and Time, LONTAR: Journal for Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, FLESH, Prairie Schooner, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Blue Lyra Review and Mekong Review. She is a past Willow Arts Alliance Residency Fellow and a recipient of the First Friday Residency at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. Svay recently received an American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice Fellowship for 2017-18, where she will gain experience as a writer for voice and the operatic stage alongside her composer partner Liliya Ugay.


Apsara in New York (Willow Books, 2017). Poetry.

Blurbs, Press & Reviews

“The immigrant child has many tasks, not the least a steadfastness to the mother country. In Sokunthary Svay’s case, this is Cambodia just barely post-Killing Fields but still abiding in the collective and particular nightmare of every survivor. And the survivor’s offspring. Another task, of course, is a new language made up of articulation, gesture, sign—here Gun Hill Road, there a mother saying, You wear the dress and stupid big boot no job. At the heart of everything, though, is to disprove that people wait to mispronounce you, / to misspell you. Svay knows this deeply and invites you to join her in tasting dragon-fruit, perhaps less poignant than those in Phnom Penh, but no less crucial.”
—Kimiko Hahn, author of Brain Fever

“Sokunthary Svay’s No Others is truly like no other poetry collection I’ve read. Transnational and pan-ethnic in scope, the book begins in a refugee camp in Thailand, settles in the Bronx and, driven by memory and desire, returns to the Cambodian cities of Phnom Penh, Battambang, and Takeo. The poet is both fierce and tender, street-smart and thoughtful, maternal and filial, political and haunted. With No Others, Svay emerges as a powerful new voice in Cambodian-American poetry.”

—Bunkong Tuon, author of Gruel and associate professor of English, Union College

Svay’s verse is elegant without being baroque, imaginative without being maudlin or needlessly florid. In this collection, her poems are often direct and frank without being vulgar, at times sparse, effectively acknowledging the many gaps and empty spaces in the Cambodian record created by the 20th century turmoils. […] As a text, Apsara in New York takes many risks, rewarding the careful reader with many layers to consider. In her closing poem Svay writes, “He says, I wish I could be here / when the apple trees bloom.” It’s very clear the blossoming has just begun, and might well soon turn into an orchard.
—Bryan Thao Worra, Consequence Magazine

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