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Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand and grew up in Toronto, Ontario. Her essays, poems and short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals. Her poetry collection Found was made into a short film. Thammavongsa’s short story “How to Pronounce Knife” was shortlisted for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.



Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2019
PS8589 .H3457 C58 2019

Publisher’s Synopsis (From its website)

Acclaimed poet Souvankham Thammavongsa returns with her fourth collection, a book about meaning. Meaning can sometimes blow up, crack something we had not seen, or darken what had been seen so clear to us. Meaning can happen with so little and go on to take so much from us. Meaning can sometimes take a long time to arrive, years even, if ever. And it’s possible meaning does not mean, and that in itself could be meaningful. Whatever happens to meaning, it is always there. It means even when you don’t want it. Every poem in this book looks at meaning and the ways in which it arrives, if at all.

Poetry (Chapbook)

A Firefly

Woodbridge, Ont.: S. Thammavongsa, 2002.

The eight poems in this self-published chapbook are reprinted in a slightly different format in Small Arguments.



Toronto: Pedlar Press, 2007.
PS8589 .H3457 F68 2007

Author Statement on Rear Cover

In 1978, my parents lived in building #48, Nong Khai, Thailand, a Lao refugee camp. My father kept a scrapbook filled with doodles, addresses, postage stamps, maps, measurements. He threw it out and when he did, I took it and found this.

Awards and Honours

2007 Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada–Poetry category (2nd prize, designer: Zab Design & Typography)



St. John’s: Pedlar Press, 2013.
PS8589 .H3457 L54 2013

Awards and Honours

2014 Trillium Book Award for Poetry (Finalist)

Poetry (Chapbook)


Victoria, B.C.: Greenboathouse Books, 2006.
Limited ed. of 100 numbered copies and 26 lettered copies.

Awards and Honours

2006 Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada–Limited Editions category (Third place: designer: Jason Dewinetz)


Small Arguments

Toronto, Ont.: Pedlar Press, 2003.
PS8589 .H3457 S63 2003

Publisher’s Synopsis (From its flyer New in 2004)

The language of Small Arguments is simple yet there is nothing simple in its ideas. The work touches on the structures of argument, orchestrating material around repetition, variation and contrast. Thammavongsa’s approach is like that of a scientist/philosopher, delicately probing material for meaning and understanding. The poet collects small lives, and argues for a larger belonging: a grain of dirt, a crushed cockroach, the eyes of a dead dragonfly. It is a work that suggests we can create with what we know and with that alone.

Awards and Honours

2003 Alcuin Society Award for Excellence in Book Design in Canada–Poetry category (2nd Prize); Designer: Zab Design & Typography
2004 ReLit Award–Poetry (Winner)

Fiction (Short stories)

How to Pronounce Knife

Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2020.
PS8589.H3457 H68 2020

Publisher’s Synopsis (From its website)

A young man painting nails at the local salon. A woman plucking feathers at a chicken processing plant. A father who packs furniture to move into homes he’ll never afford. A mother who works nights alongside her daughter, harvesting worms. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. In her startling debut book of fiction, Souvankham Thammavongsa vividly captures the day-to-day lives of immigrants and refugees, illuminating their hopes, disappointments, love affairs, acts of defiance–and, above all, their pursuit of a place to belong. In spare, intimate prose charged with emotional power and a sly wit, she paints an indelible portrait of watchful children, wounded men, and restless women caught between cultures, languages, and values. Told with compassion, wry humour, and an unflinching eye for the often absurd realities of having to start your life over again, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary “grunt work of the world.”

A daughter becomes an unwilling accomplice in her mother’s growing infatuation with country singer Randy Travis. After a boxer loses his dream of becoming a championship fighter, he finds an unexpected chance at redemption while working at his sister’s nail salon. When a seventy-year-old woman begins a relationship with her much younger neighbour, her assumptions about the limits of love unravel. As he watches his wife gradually drift into an affair with her boss, a school bus driver must grapple with what he’s willing to give up in order to belong. And in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize-shortlisted title story, a young girl’s unconditional love for her father transcends the fickleness of language.

Unsentimental yet tender, and fiercely alive, How to Pronounce Knife announces Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most striking voices of her generation.

Awards and Honours

2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize (Winner)
2021 National Book Critics Circle–Fiction Prize (Finalist)
2021 Trillium Book Award (Winner)
2020-2021 Asian/Pacific American Award for Adult Fiction (Honor title)

Anthology (Short story)

“Mani Pedi” was first published in The Puritan. It was longlisted for the 2016 awarding of The Journey Prize. It appeared in volume 28 of  The Journey Prize: Stories: The Best of Canada’s New Writers (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2016).

Anthology (Short story)

“Paris” was first published in Ricepaper. It was longlisted for the 2016 awarding of The Journey Prize. It appeared in volume 28 of The Journey Prize: Stories: The Best of Canada’s New Writers (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2016).


Drama (Chapbook)

The Weed Woman

Toronto, Ont.: Junction Books, 2001.
Published in an edition of 75 copies.


Souvankham Thammavongsa personal website

Publisher Pedlar Press

Publisher Greenboathouse Books

Publisher McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

Author Profile by Steven W. Beattie in Quill & Quire website, posted 5 March 2020