Photo by Michael Tran.

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991.

A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, featured in the live performances and taping of the blockbuster diasporic Vietnamese variety show Paris By Night 114: Tôi Là Người Việt Nam, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. His poems and essays are widely published in numerous publications including Screaming Monkeys and Spoken Word Revolution Redux. He has also released several CDs of his poetry, such as Refugeography and The Nguyens EP. A short story of his, Revolution Shuffle, appeared in the anthology Octavia’s Brood: Stories from Social Justice Movements, AK Press, 2015, and an essay of his was included in the anthology A Good Time for the Truth, edited by Sun Yung Shin, Minnesota Historical Society Press.

He has performed in venues and schools across the country, from the Nuyorican Poets Café to the University of California, Berkeley. He was featured in the award-winning documentary feature film The Listening Project as an American listener who traveled the world to talk to every day people about global issues and politics. He also returned to acting in 2008 with a feature role in Theatre Mu’s production of Q & A. He was on poetry faculty at the Kundiman retreat at Fordham University in New York in 2015.

In addition to his creative work, he was nominated for a Facing Race Ambassador award in recognition for his community work, and has published essays in topics from Asians in hip hop to Asian representation in video games. He has been a guest speaker at numerous events and for various entities, such as Giant Steps and Bushconnect. Currently he continues to perform across the country, remains active as an Asian American community organizer, and is the Program Director of Events and Awards at the Loft. He was the Coordinating Chair of the National APIA Spoken Word Poetry Summit, 2011. He has been an official blogger for the Star Tribune and contributed to essays to Nerds of Color.

The spoken word series he created at the Loft Literary Center, Equilibrium,  won the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Anti-Racism Initiative Award.

His first collection of poetry, Sông I Sing, published by Coffee House Press, was met with strong sales, is taught in classrooms across the United States, and enjoyed rave reviews, including the New York Times which stated “In this song of his very American self, every poem Mr. Phi writes rhymes with the truth.” In 2012, the Star Tribune’s inaugural Best of Minnesota issue named Bao Phi as Best Spoken Word Artist.


(photo courtesy of Anna Min, from the Loft Literary Center’s Equilibrium at AWP event)

He has been an Urban Griots artist of the year and event producer of the year, and been named Artist of the Year by City Pages in multiple years.

His second collection of poems, Thousand Star Hotel, was published by Coffee House Press on July 5, 2017, of which the Chicago Review of Books wrote “this is a different kind of poetry, a volume written by an experienced orator who understands how to tell a story. These poems don’t happen, they elapse. They add on to a story that isn’t yet over.” It was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award, named by NPR as one of the Best Books of 2017, and was named the best poetry book of 2017 by San Francisco State’s Poetry Center.

His first children’s book, A Different Pond, illustrated by Thi Bui, was published by Capstone Press in August of 2017. A Different Pond earned six starred reviews, a Caldecott Honor, as well as the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Honors, The Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, Booklist Editor’s Choice, a Hornbook Fanfare book, and was named among the best books of the year by Kirkus, Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and many others. A Different Pond also received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for Excellence in picture book writing. It has been adapted for the stage by Stages Theater with Mu Performing Arts, Fall of 2022.

His second children’s book, My Footprints, illustrated by Basia Tran, was also published by Capstone, in 2019. In a starred review, the School Library Journal called it “a timeless and important book that deals with the fallout of bullying and the power of a child’s imagination to overcome with the strength and support of a loving family”. His third children’s book, Hello Mandarin Duck!, illustrated by Dion MBD, and fourth, You Are Life, illustrated by Hannah Li, were also published by Capstone.

Bao Phi was a co-editor, along with No’u Revilla, Franny Choi, Terisa Siagatonu, for a forthcoming anthology of AANHPI poetry in the oral tradition, We the Gathered Heat, to be published by Haymarket in August of 2024.

He was named by Minneapolis Monthly as Best Author 2016, and an Artist of the Year and Author of the Year by City Pages, 2017 and 2018.

He was a Visiting Critic in the English Department of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York during the 2021-2022 school year. In 2024, he was honored with the Kay Sexton Award, presented annually to an individual or organization in recognition of longstanding dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading, and literary activity in Minnesota.

More on Bao Phi:

Refugeography by Wing Young Huie

courtesy of Wing Young Huie