Biography Author, activist, and lecturer Loung Ung was only 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge soldiers stormed into her native city of Phnom Penh. Four years later, in one of the bloodiest episodes of the 20th century, some two million Cambodians – out of a population of seven million – had died at the hands of the infamous Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. Among the victims were both Loung’s parents, two sisters, and 20 other relatives. In 1980, Loung and her older brother Meng escaped to the United States.
Since 1995, Loung has made over thirty trips back to Cambodia and has devoted herself to helping her native land heal from the traumas of war. She has worked as an activist to end violence against women, child soldiers, and the Campaign for a Landmine Free World, and served as the spokesperson for the campaign from 1997-2005. In 2013, Loung expanded her activism reach as one of the writers of ‘Girl Rising’, a groundbreaking film directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins which tells the stories of 9 extraordinary girls from 9 countries and their stories of forced marriage, domestic slavery, sex trafficking, and gender violence and the power of education to change their worlds. Each girl’s story was written by a renowned writer from her native country, and then narrated by celebrated actresses including Cate Blanchett, Priyanka Chopra, Selena Gomez, Anne Hathaway, Salma Hayek, Alicia Keys, Meryl Streep, and Kerry Washington.
Loung’s books have allowed her to share her message about the costs of war and the need for reconciliation with a wider audience. Her nationally bestselling memoir, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, (HarperCollins 2000) was the recipient of the 2001 Asian/Pacific American Librarians’ Association award for “Excellence in Adult Non-fiction Literature”, and has been selected for many school and university reading programs in the U.S. and internationally. It has been published in 14 countries and translated into German, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, French, Spanish, Italian, Cambodian, and Japanese. Loung’s other works include Lucky Child, and Lulu in the Sky, both of which are also taught in schools and universities.
In recognition of her work, The World Economic Forum selected Loung as one of the “100 Global Youth Leaders of Tomorrow.” She has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, London Sunday Times, Glamour, and more. Loung has also appeared on numerous televisions and radio shows, including CNN, the Diane Rheme Show, Talk of the Nation, Weekend Edition, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and The Today Show. In addition, she has been the subject of an hour-long documentary for the German ARTE, Japanese NHK, and U.S. NECN, and has spoken widely at numerous forums, including Stanford University, Singapore American, Taipei American School, Mexico 1 Million Youth Summit, UN Conferences on Women in Beijing, UN Conference Against Racism and Discriminations in Durban, South Africa, and Child Soldiers Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Praise for Loung Ung’s books
“My favorite book [of 2001] was Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father, about her childhood in Cambodia.… I encourage everyone to read Lucky Child, a deeply moving and very important book. Equal to the strength of the book is the woman who wrote it.”
—Angelina Jolie, actor and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
“First They Killed My Father is a story of triumph of a child’s indomitable spirit over the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge .… I could not put the book down until I reached the end. Meeting Loung in person merely reaffirmed my admiration for her.”
—Queen Noor of Jordan, author and humanitarian
“First They Killed My Father left me gasping for air. Loung Ung plunges her readers into a Kafkaesque world – her childhood robbed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge – and forces them to experience the mass murder, starvation, and disease that claimed half her beloved family. In the end, the horror of the Cambodian genocide is matched only by the author’s unbreakable spirit.”
—Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking
“Loung connected with students, staff and parents. Her sense of social justice and humanity has touched the minds, hearts and souls of our community. Although she is now gone, her influence will continue to resonate for many people.”
—Mark R. Boyer, Assistant Superintendent Singapore American School
“Loung Ung’s presentation inspired me and influenced me to change my way of existing.”
—Brittany St. John, student
“Loung Ung taught me how to view life in a different way. I realize that I am fortunate to be living the life I live.”
—Luis Gallegos, student
“Loung has written an eloquent and powerful narrative as a young witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities.”
—Dith Pran, whose wartime life was portrayed in an the award winning film The Killing Fields