Hmong-American poet Mai Der Vang wins prize for best debut

A Hmong-American poet is this year's winner of the Walt Whitman Award, given for an outstanding debut book.

The Academy of American Poets told The Associated Press on Wednesday that 34-year-old Mai Der Vang will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a six-week residency in Umbria, Italy.

Her collection "Afterland," inspired by the flight of the Hmong people caused by the so-called Secret War in Laos during the Vietnam War era, will be published next year by Graywolf Press.

The academy will purchase thousands of copies for its members and will feature Mai Der Vang in its American Poets magazine and on its website,

Previous winners of the Whitman prize, established in 1975, include Nicole Cooley, Eric Pankey and Alberto Rios.