HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Loung Ung

Cambodian Genocide Survivor, Activist, and Best-Selling Author


  • First They Killed My Father: An Eyewitness Account of the Cambodian Genocide
  • Turning Life into Books: An Exorcist of the Writing Kind
  • Beyond Surviving to Thriving: One Woman's Journey to Find Love, Healing, and Double Happiness
  • Take Back Your Life: An Activist's Road from Victim to Fighter
  • Lucky Child: Five Immigrant Lessons to Succeed in America



Loung Ung is an author, lecturer, and activist who has dedicated the last 15 years of her life to promoting equality and human rights in her native land and worldwide. Her first memoir, the national best-seller First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (Harper Perennial), details her survival of Cambodia's killing fields, one of the bloodiest episodes of the twentieth century. Some two million Cambodians -- out of a population of just seven million -- died at the hands of the infamous Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. Of her family of nine, five survived. Ung now speaks regularly about her unforgettable experiences at schools, universities, libraries, cultural organizations, and historical societies.

Born in 1970 to a middle-class family in Phnom Penh, Ung was only five years old when her family was forced out of the city in a mass evacuation to the countryside. By 1978, the Khmer Rouge had killed Ung's parents and two of her siblings. In 1980, she and her older brother escaped by boat to Thailand, where they spent five months in a refugee camp. In her second book, Lucky Child (HarperCollins), Ung picks her story back up in Burlington, Vermont, where she and brother relocated, and describes the arduous process of adjusting to a new country and culture. Her latest book, Lulu in the Sky (Harper Perennial), tells the next chapter in Ung's life, revealing her daily struggle to keep darkness, anger, and depression at bay while falling in love at college with Mark Priemer, who is now her husband.

Named one of the "100 Global Youth Leaders of Tomorrow" by The World Economic Forum, Ung is the subject of an hour-long documentary for the German ARTE, Japanese NHK, and U.S. NECN. She is also a contributing writer for the groundbreaking film Girl Rising, which profiles nine girls from nine countries, including Cambodia, who are struggling against odds to achieve an education. She has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, London Sunday Times, Biography, Glamour, Jane, and Ms. magazine. In addition, Ung has shared her story on The Diane Rehm Show, Talk of the Nation, Weekend Edition, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The Today Show with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, and has appeared on ABC NEWS Nightline, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and C-SPAN.

In 1995, after attending a memorial service in Cambodia, Ung was shocked and saddened to learn that 20 of her relatives had been killed, and thousands of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide were still being maimed, injured, and killed each year by antipersonnel land-mines. She is now the National Spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World and shares her messages of civic service, activism, and leadership across the world. She has spoken at the Young Presidents' Organization, The Million Dollar Round Table Plenary, Linkage Inc., Crowe Chizek and Company LLP, SONY, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, the UN Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and the Child Soldiers Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as many other organizations, schools, and corporate venues.

When not working and traveling, Ung enjoys eating fried crickets, drinking margaritas, and riding around her neighborhood on her tandem bike with friends.

Praise for Loung Ung:

"Loung Ung is a rare and remarkable speaker. As a survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields, Loung takes her audience into a world of unspeakable suffering, heartbreaking loss, and unimaginable hardship. Yet, it is not these things that remain with you after you have heard her speak. What stays with you is Loung's voice. A voice of strength, kindness, and most of all, of incandescent hope. A voice that boldly empowers us to put down whatever hardship we might have endured and forge ahead to create the world we all would like to see."
-- Gail Straub, co-founder and Executive Director, The Empowerment Institute

"Loung Ung gives a face and voice to a topic that could otherwise be almost inaccessible due its great sadness and weight: the topic of war and genocide. Ms. Ung has the compassion and spirit necessary to connect with audiences that might otherwise be overwhelmed by the menace and malice of history. Her story, as tragic as it might be, fills the listener with a sense of hope, direction, and purpose. Whereas her subject matter is as difficult and challenging as it gets, Loung Ung's presence is a straightforward testimony of human strength and the possibility of good rising from evil."
-- Dan Scheibe, Assistant Head of School, Middlesex School

"It was a pleasure and an honor to host Loung Ung for the 2007 Amnesty International Lecture. Her presentation was truly inspirational, and it is admirable that she was able to reflect on such traumatic experiences in her own past in a way that effectively reached out to others from more safe and comfortable backgrounds. The slightest suggestion of preaching or guilt tripping and the effect would be lost but her able and disarming use of humor took the audience with her, no doubt surprised to find themselves sharing laughter along the way. Loung Ung's life-affirming energy represents a triumph of the human spirit over adversity."
-- John Watson, Scottish Programme Director, Amnesty International

"Loung came to speak to a large group of Cathay Pacific Airways North American and Hong Kong based managers in Vancouver. She delivered a powerful, moving and yet very human story. People watched in total rapt attention, many with tears in their eyes. To this day many still talk about the event and the impact she made. Loung is not just an inspiring and powerful speaker; she also comes across as so totally genuine. She manages to mix emotion, and a compelling story with great enthusiasm. Her infectious charm and sense of fun is so much part of the experience. Once you have heard Loung speak, you are captivated, drawn in and left feeling good and wanting to do something positive with your life."
-- Tom Wright, General Manager, India, Middle East, Africa & Pakistan, CathayPacific

"Loung Ung is an inspirational speaker and dedicated humanitarian. She empowered the UW Khmer students to learn more about their own histories, culture and to follow their passions to create change for a better tomorrow and future. Loung's strength and courage inspired them to take leadership positions and find their own opportunities for advocacy in both local and global communities."
-- Linda M. Ando, UW Academic Counselor and KHSA Student Organization Staff Adviser

"Loung Ung's story of surviving a brutal and terrifying childhood in the war zone of Cambodia reveals the depth and resiliency of the human spirit. Her capacity to share her own journey of surviving trauma and healing is nothing short of stunning. As a master presenter, Loung helps us grieve the horrors we are all touched by and inspires us to reach for a more peaceful and compassionate way of living. Her presence is sheer grace."
-- Carla Goldstein, Director of the Women's Institute at Omega

"Loung was not only an outstanding speaker but also extremely skilled in shaping her passion and commitment to the theme of Seattle Human Rights Day. The audience was riveted to their seats during her presentation and there were few dry eyes in the house. We are still receiving heartfelt thanks and comments from both the Khmer community and the general public."
-- Germaine W. Covington, Director, Seattle Office of Civil Rights

"The 'All Johnson County Reads the Same Book' planning committee selected Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father for its community read. It was an outstanding decision... The project culminated in a University of Iowa lecture in which Loung received a standing ovation from an audience of over 500 who were captured by the substance of the subject matter and her passion for social justice."
-- Chivy Sok, Deputy Director, University of Iowa, Center for Human Rights

Praise for First They Killed My Father:

"Ung tells her stories straightforwardly, vividly, and without any strenuous effort to explicate their importance, allowing the stories themselves to create their impact."
-- New York Times

"Despite the tragedy all around her, this scrappy kid struggles for life and beats the odds. I thought young Ung's story would make me sad. But this spunky child warrior carried me with her in her courageous quest for life. Reading these pages has strengthened me in my own struggle to disarm the powers of violence in this world."
-- Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking

"This is a story of the triumph of a child's indomitable spirit over the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge; over a culture where children are trained to become killing machines. Loung's subsequent campaign against land mines is a result of witnessing firsthand how her famished neighbors, after dodging soldiers' bullets, risked their lives to traverse unmapped minefields in search of food. Despite the heartache, I could not put the book down until I reached the end. Meeting Loung in person merely reaffirmed my admiration of her."
-- Queen Noor

"This book 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 indomitable spirit."
-- Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking

"Loung has written an eloquent and powerful narrative as a young witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This is an important story that will have a dramatic impact on today's readers and inform generations to come."
-- Dith Pran, whose wartime life was portrayed in an the award winning film The Killing Fields

"In this gripping narrative Loung Ung describes the unfathomable evil that engulfed Cambodia during her childhood, the courage that enabled her family to survive, and the determination that has made her an eloquent voice for peace and justice in Cambodia. It is a tour de force that strengthens our resolve to prevent and punish crimes against humanities."
-- U.S.Senator Patrick Leahy

"A riveting memoir... an important, moving work that those who have suffered cannot afford to forget and those who have been spared cannot afford to ignore."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"There can be absolutely no question about the innate power of Ung's story, the passion with which she tells it, or its enduring importance."
-- Washington Post Book World

Praise for Lucky Child:

"I encourage everyone to read this deeply moving and very important book. Equal to the strength of the book, is the woman who wrote it. She is a voice for her people and they are lucky to have her."
-- Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

"Many recent books have told the tale of genocide and survival, but in Lucky Child Loung Ung has given us a book as unusual as it is heartbreaking -- the story of a family torn in two after genocide... Loung has managed to follow First They Killed My Father with a book every bit as gripping and important, and she has given us a unique glimpse into America's 'melting pot' a melting pot born of indescribable suffering but brimming with irrepressible life."
-- Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

"Ung helps understand what happens when a family is torn apart by politics, adversity, and war. Change the names of characters, give them another country of origin, and this story of dislocation becomes a tragedy millions of immigrants have lived through but seldom talk about... Ung's story is a compelling and inspirational one that touches universal chords. Americans would do well to read it, no matter where they were born."
-- Washington Post Book World

"Remarkable... Lucky Child is part adventure, part history, and, in large part, a love story about family."
-- Cleveland Plain Dealer

Praise for Lulu in the Sky:

"Loung Ung makes Lulu in the Sky shimmer with renewal after the Cambodian killing fields"
-- Cleveland Plain Dealer

"You can't help liking and admiring this young woman. . . . [A] lively, humorous account . . . when you arrive at the hard-earned happy ending, it's with a sigh of deep relief."
-- Washington Post