Viet Thanh Nguyen received his Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley. Rise against abusive power or stand with our back turned to the abuse of power. Viet Thanh Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English , American Studies and Ethnicity and Comperative Literature at the University of Southern California, and the author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book 'The Sympathizer.' What was the ethnic studies program at Cal like and when you're there? But now I think with COVID and the rise of anti-Asian violence, I feel slightly more rejuvenated and I’m exploring the possibility of going back to teaching [Asian American studies] again but from an even angrier perspective than I had before. So the family “fled on foot, made it to the nearest port city 150 kilometers away, through very terrible circumstances, throngs of refugees and fleeing soldiers, and dead people.” They safely got to Saigon, only to have to flee again a month later after North Vietnam captured Saigon. Sometimes it can work to the benefit of writers of color. It’s an enormously powerful identity for those of us in the United States who are of Asian descent because it takes a weakness, which is our racialized status, our status as being possibly lesser than white Americans or other Americans and turning it into a positive, which is strength in numbers and in identification with other people who are not like us…being Asian American just put a name on it, that we shared a common bond, whether we were Japanese, or Vietnamese, or Korean or Filipino, and we can transcend those bonds into something called being Asian American. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” If, say, the longlisters for the Booker Prize were all Asian, or all Black, and so forth, would this be a good thing, or would we be going too far? You want people to read your book and you want to win prizes, Not everybody wants these things, but I think a lot of us who are subject to human vanity and frailty, as I am, have these fantasies. The Vietnamese people and Vietnamese Americans have voices. It’s a matter of building endurance and building character, building spirit to confront that page, because writing is a lifelong endeavor.”, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, Chicken of the Sea (written with his son Ellison Nguyen), VIRTUALLY EXPLOREMY AMERICA: IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE WRITERS TODAY. Because as generative as it was for me not to feel at home, I don’t want that for my son.”, “One of the transformative moments of my life was going to college at UC Berkeley and discovering that I was an Asian American. “Those of us who are refugees and immigrants or who support them, we have to use every tool at our disposal, including our writing.”. It continues the conversation of race and colonialism in Paris and in France and confronts a different kind of imperialism than American imperialism. This week, get to know Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer. A list of only Asian American or Asian or Black writers and so on: why not? CJ: For a period of time before writing The Sympathizer, you primarily wrote short stories, many of which were anthologized in your collection, The Refugees. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. I think what’s happened, though, is that because of the passage of the Immigration Naturalization Act of 1965 and the creation of this idea of Asian Americans as a model minority—which is a relatively recent phenomenon—combined with the fact that most of the Asian American population today has come into being after 1965 and the worst of anti-Asian violence, it means that for today’s Asian Americans, these racist acts are a real shock. VTN: The conditions under which we’re writing are extreme for Americans but not extreme for much of the world much of the time. Are there certain aspects of short stories that you are drawn to, and conversely, are there aspects of short stories that would cause you to automatically dismiss them? That’s the reality for writers. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. The Sympathizer is the 2015 debut novel by Vietnamese American professor Viet Thanh Nguyen.It is a best-selling novel and recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.Its reviews have generally recognized its excellence, and it was named a New York Times Editor's Choice.. That’s the terrain of The Committed. Viet Thanh Nguyen had no intention of writing a sequel to “The Sympathizer,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a French-Vietnamese undercover agent working for … No one knows how to cut you down like another Vietnamese person, who’ll do it with a smile. We need to examine the role that prejudice plays, even if not explicitly, in who gets published in journals. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. The nonfiction book talks about me but also about these political and economic problems of inequality and injustice. They enjoy it and read it pretty quickly, which is not the way it was written. Growing up in the United States, I was encouraged by generations of American tradition to believe that it was normal, desirable and practical to adopt an American first name, and even to change one’s surname to an American one. But our current moment has also made clear that there are lot of Asian Americans out there who are also racist; who accept the inequalities and injustices of American society because it benefits them; who are perfectly ready to spout anti-Black, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee rhetoric; and who are willing to embrace the military industrial complex and the use of American power overseas. It is up to Asian Americans to criticize fellow Asian Americans when they say and do these kinds of things. Obviously, some writers of color do get the hype as well, but disproportionately so. People of all kinds who are subject to their own unexamined tastes and prejudices are selecting what gets published, including myself. In terms of wanting to be a writer, I had a lot of fantasies in general about what that would be like, as I think most people do. I’m not done with him because, from the perspective of the plot, I think there are still some interesting things to put him through. The same thing has to happen in the publishing industry. And so, you can look at the Ploughshares issue to see that I’m very careful about trying to be demographically inclusive, and that, in itself, it is a political statement but also a literary statement. When I finished The Sympathizer, I thought: I’m not done with this character, I’m still interested in him, and he’s still alive. Women have had to write books while taking care of their families that their husbands were neglecting. Posted on May 19, 2020. Viet Thanh Nguyen, who arrived in America as a Vietnamese child refugee in 1975, is an academic who has written on the cultural depictions of the Vietnam War. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist and short-story writer. It structures almost every aspect of our lives, and for different populations at different times, the racism directed against them goes latent or submerges below the surface because other issues take the foreground. I’m also thinking about the impact of COVID and what it reveals about our country and the rest of the world—inequalities that are structural and deep. Writing short stories was a completely miserable experience. But I have to say, honestly, I’ve been dealing with Asian American issues since I was 19 at Berkeley. Viet Thanh Nguyen became the first Vietnamese American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, The Sympathizer, this year. CJ: Dovetailing with this was an interesting viral moment on Twitter in which authors of color tweeted the exact amount they received as an advance for their books. I thought they would be easier to writer than a novel because they’re short, which, of course, was a false belief. But outside of those circumstances, I think writers need to simply confront our isolation with our own words and our own thoughts. What is our level of emotions’s awareness in our daily’s behaviour ? But after he finished it, he realized he wasn't done exploring "the misadventures" of his complicated protagonist. That’s all the English-speaking countries that the British colonized! I think it’s completely relevant and weaves together so many critical issues of Asian American culture, history, and politics to the personal and the autobiographical. “When I was growing up as a refugee in San Jose my parents were working all the time, so they provided all the material things that I needed but they didn’t have the time to spend with me. However, for Asian Americans overall, especially the ones whose voices are ultimately heard, racism hasn’t been a factor in their lives. You have certain idols and certain dreams about what you can accomplish. Viet Thanh Nguyen 05:44. May 19, 2020. by American Writers Museum. It took 20 years altogether, and I have to say, 99% of it was miserable and terrible. I also think there are various kinds of theoretical political issues that The Sympathizer brings up that I had not finished exploring. Viet Thanh Nguyen I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. An epic about the shattering impact of the Vietnam War on one … Solidarity or complicity. There is, by now, a significant body of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese literature translated into English. The next time I teach an Asian American studies class, I’m definitely going to teach Cathy’s book. I think of The Sympathizer as a dialectical novel, and in finishing it, I decided I needed a dialectical trilogy because the issues the book raises, in terms of colonialism, race, and war, I only got part way through parsing. Turn it on in browser settings to view this mobile website. Up until that point I thought I was either an American, or Vietnamese. A person whose every act of writing is a part of their writing persona. It was a matter of practice. Columbia Journal: We’ll start with what has become something of a required question these days, given COVID and the current state of the world, which is: how are you doing? And so that’s had an enormous impact on me as a writer, and obviously on other writers, because we have a very vibrant body of Asian American literature today in the United States.”, “The writing process is learning the discipline of writing, learning the art of it, but also learning how to deal with isolation, and rejection, and solitude and all these kinds of things. They were subject to all kinds of violence and discrimination that were worse than what’s happening now. So after 20 years of suffering to be a writer, I reached the moment where I felt: this doesn’t matter anymore. CJ: Thinking about the inequalities that COVID has revealed in America brings to mind recent acts of discrimination and violence toward Asian Americans, goaded by Donald Trump’s use of terms like “Kung Flu” and “Wuhan Virus.” An essay on this issue by Cathy Park Hong in The New York Times Magazine was titled “The Slur I Never Expected to Hear in 2020.” You’ve written extensively about the experience of Asian Americans in the United States. Any kind of writing is alright. The publishing world works in layers. VTN: When I set out to write The Sympathizer, my intention was for it to simply be one novel, but it was very clearly conceived to be a novel that incorporated many genres, including the spy thriller. And I wanted to write an entertaining novel—that was also a very serious novel at the same time—and a novel that would grapple with politics, history, and obviously the Vietnam War. Love it or leave it. Try to make something useful out of what’s been forced upon all of us. Nguyen’s family all made it safely to the U.S., which Nguyen credits to an incredible amount of luck, or from his parents’ perspective, “God smiled on us.”, Nguyen and his family eventually settled in San Jose, which at the time was the second largest Vietnamese refugee community in the United States. Think about your writing persona as one that is complete. VTN: I participated in this. And works by writers who are clearly from non-white, non-privileged backgrounds need to get second looks. I’m also interested in working out theoretical political issues in the fiction. These anti-Asian sentiments are waiting to be reawakened, as with every other racist component of American history, because we, in fact, are a country in which racism is part of our DNA. I think Ginsburg is correct in that regard. Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor. So, yes, once you start talking about these things, the absurdity of having a shortlist that’s all white men becomes very clear. They can live their isolated lives in ways that they would have anyways but is now seen as the norm for everybody else. Check back every week to learn more about these writers and their thoughts on these themes, as we highlight select quotes from the exhibit as well as reading recommendations. CJ: How would you envision teaching these recent events in a class about Asian American history? The standard strand of Asian American thinking is to embrace the reality of anti-Asian violence and rhetoric and to say that we have to be critical of anti-Asian racism in the United States and everything that it’s connected to—which is absolutely true. There’s so much work to be done in terms of making people aware and sensitizing them to their own prejudices and those of industry as a whole. But again, it’s always been there, latent, ready to be reawakened at any moment of crisis in which Asians are situated as a threat to the United States, and of course, Trump has made that threat quite visible. There’s still at least one more story. Each week, the My America blog series introduces you to one of the writers featured in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, which can now be explored virtually. Let’s talk about that! I think recently that changed for me a bit because I became a father, and now I feel at home with the family that I have, the home that we’ve created. By Viet Thanh Nguyen The Great Vietnam War Novel Was Not Written by an American Literature about the war and its aftermath by Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans is plentiful and good. And for some people, it may even be a good thing. The novel is written from the perspective of a Communist spy, something unacceptable to his Vietnamese refugee community. I’m happy and grateful, but it’s not really what it’s about. Nguyen has been an important contributor to the AWM from the beginning, serving on our National Advisory Council as well as helping us form our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, in which he is featured. VTN: I don’t think there’s anything new about it. After writing many short stories, I found I could write a novel. So, it was actually a relief not to have to teach Asian American studies in the last couple of years at USC. My America: Viet Thanh Nguyen. Nguyen’s first novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Though I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I don’t think I ever fantasized that one of my books would be included in syllabi. When the North Vietnamese invaded the south, his family was living in a small town in the central Vietnamese highlands called Buon Ma Thuot, the first town captured by the North Vietnamese. It just probably depends on the criteria. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. I don’t think that would be a problem. People have got to keep track of statistics. But I will say that my approach to the Ploughshares issue was to be very attentive to the identities and backgrounds of the writers who I ultimately chose for the issue. I think, in the end, it’s really just a matter of whatever moves me. I think, in general, I’ve been fortunate because I have a place to weather COVID and I can go out and take walks. Do you see these recent racist acts as much different than what Asian Americans have endured throughout American history or is it more of the same? That’s all a part of the process. I don’t know how the hype mechanism works for why certain books get these six and seven-figure advances. thanks for reading, and for your comments. The moment a writer gives up on other people’s expectations, human frailties, vanities, and desires and just writes the book that they want to write, regardless of circumstance, that’s the moment they really become a writer. Artistic merit aside, I think editors have an obligation to be aware of representational problems, especially within the history of their own journal, but also within the history of the field. No surprise that in the 1980s in San Jose, the crime Vietnamese people spoke most often of was the home invasion, when Vietnamese youth invaded the homes of people who looked just like them. When you think about these kinds of issues other writers have faced, you realize being confined to your room is not the worst possible thing that could happen to you. Mine is Viet Thanh Nguyen, although I was born in Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Viet. ', 'If youth was not wasted, how could it be youth? Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book A… S ince the 2015 publication of his Pulitzer Prize–winning debut novel The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen has emerged as one of the literary world’s leading public intellectuals. It’s an interesting situation to be in, where, by the time the accolades come in, I don’t really care that much about them anymore. I, too, was once an undergraduate student enrolled in Asian American and other minority-specific literature courses, who was thrilled to read books by Asian Americans and other writers of color. Viet Thanh Nguyen Is The Pro-Refugee Voice America Needs To Hear. This is part of the complicated task of a writer…we can talk about our people, whoever they happen to be, but we can challenge them as well.”. But it was basically half ethnic studies. CJ: To pivot towards some of your work, we now know that The Committed, the upcoming sequel to your 2016 novel, The Sympathizer, is due to be published next year. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. “When I was your age, I was very conscious of myself as a Vietnamese American and Asian American, and I knew I was a refugee but I didn’t like go around calling myself that because I knew that there weren't a lot of stories about any of these populations that I was a part of.”. The Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, he lives in Los Angeles. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I had to write a novel. There were also the politics of gender, sexuality, and heterosexuality that I needed to continue working through. 482 quotes from Viet Thanh Nguyen: 'Nothing is ever so expensive as what is offered for free. Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think also of black radicals like Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr, who are best known in the US for their critiques of racism within American society. Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen: The lessons out of the Vietnam War for Americans have been two-fold with positive and negative lessons. In his book “L’Exixtentialisme est un humaniste”, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, I quote, L’homme est la somme de ses actes, and after readind the above interview, I would rather say : L’homme est la somme de ses Emotions. Being surrounded by fellow refugees gave Nguyen a sense of his Vietnamese heritage and greatly impacted his writing, especially The Sympathizer. Whichever way you arrange my name, it is not a typical American name. How about those emotions when manipulated by someone like Trump or any other kind of doctrines? But I also face the same challenges that many others confront, such as having kids at home, having an aging father 400 miles away, and so on. That was half my committee. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. There are so many moments of selection and gatekeeping, and the people who are manning the first gates are oftentimes young and unquestioning of their assumptions. If you care too much, it’s a miserable experience. So for Asian Americans in the last thirty, forty, fifty years, the feeling has been well, we’re not really the victims of racism because we’re not Black or brown. It’s obviously a great thing to know that there are people teaching these books. How does it feel to see your work reach those heights? We have a president who tells one particular version of the American story, with which I deeply disagree, but his version of the American story is persuasive to a large number of Americans. Viet Thanh Nguyen 06:04. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Nguyen’s work gives voice to a Vietnamese perspective in ways that he has said classic American films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon fall short. It’s a good place to be as a writer. Every moment of writing is an exercise of who you are as a writer. The Refugees' Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares memories of being a refugee from South Vietnam. I think many people thought that anti-Asian violence was a thing of the past or something they had never even heard about before, and so to encounter this now is very painful and terrifying for many. Viet Thanh Nguyen joins the Pulitzer Prize board as its first Vietnamese-American member. As an Asian American writer, I’m not interested in just telling the story, although telling stories is important. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. The library was my second home. "He's alive at the end of the book and he's learned … If I were to go back and teach Asian American studies in the next year or two, it would be to discuss both of these realities. "It saddens me deeply that many Vietnamese Americans support Donald Trump to such a degree," Viet Thanh Nguyen, a novelist and professor of English and American … I go back to that image in The Karate Kid where Daniel LaRusso learns the basics of karate Mr. Miyagi by painting a fence and waxing a car, and then all of a sudden, he finds that he can block a blow. In the past, people have written whole books sitting in a prison somewhere for crimes they should not have been convicted of, due to racism or colonialism. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist. And storytelling becomes one terrain where we fight over what it means to be an American.”, “I think all writers should try to cultivate that sense of how important home is. Indeed, Nguyen Thanh Viet took me, thru his books, in a long and overwelming journey full of painful memories and I thank him for writing “Nothing ever dies – Vietnam memory of war”. My advance for The Sympathizer was $35,000, which is not that bad in the literary world, but small when compared to the $2 million advance that Garth Risk Hallberg got for City on Fire, which was the big debut novel of that year. There is much to be sympathized for people who are debilitated by poverty, the lack of resources, and mental illness, and living with abusive people in their families or households. He is a professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern ... America was never great for people like me and if I have a mission in my life as a storyteller and as a It was transformative for me. This “put the first seed in my mind that perhaps this could be fun to do.” So from an early age he loved to read and write for the sheer pleasure it brought him, the escapism and entertainment it can provide. It’s terrible for the entire country, but for a writer, terrible moments can be good because they provide a lot of material to think and write about. When it comes to the Vietnam War, Vietnamese refugees in America and the Vietnamese diaspora, … It’s an unequal terrain because if you happen to be a poor Asian American in an urban environment, you are oftentimes subjected to anti-Asian violence and prejudice. I chose a variety of stylistic approaches to fiction and nonfiction. There was no joy in it. Then, I got tired of it because there’s a lot of Asian American thinking and work that is insular, self-congratulatory, and dominated by neoliberalism on the one hand and by a self-congratulatory radicalism on the other hand. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page. I got to choose half the writers right off the bat; almost everybody I chose was a person of color. 1990-1992 because I transferred in from UCLA. Watch the program in its entirety on YouTube. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. June 25, 2020, ... officer descended from refugees is different from that of a stereotypical model-minority Chinese-American engineer or a Vietnamese-American writer like me, the moral choices remain the same. Currently you have JavaScript disabled. If you go back to the nineteenth century—talking specifically about Chinese immigrants—they were faced with intense anti-Chinese hatred which amounted to events including lynchings, for example. I’m reading more works by people of color than white people, but I’m reading twice as many American writers than non-American writers. Nguyen: Disremembering is the experience of being remembered and forgotten at the same time. What’s very clear by the time you finish reading The Committed is that the story’s not finished yet. This transcript has been edited for clarity. And if you have prizes that include translations… the majority of the world’s population is people of color. And we’re living at a time in our country when the fact of storytelling is ever present. Nguyen was in third grade. I wrote short stories as my mode of apprenticeship in writing. And then I stayed on to do my PhD in English, from 92 to 97. In writing workshops, that was the preferred mode by which the writer learned to write. There’s plenty of evidence that the literary industry is not immune to the problems around race, diversity, and inclusion that are endemic within American society. That was what it was like for me. T he face of Tou Thao … Did you envision this story as larger than one book from the outset? His new collection is The Refugees (Corsair), from which this story is … Viet Thanh Nguyen is the Pulitzer Prize ... People like me and the Barnard students who want to read different kinds of literature are the barbarians at the gate, the supposed purveyors of … I never thought about being a short story writer until I got to college and discovered that short stories were a thing. This is deeply problematic. Why can’t you have an entire longlist composed of Asian international authors if your prize is that capacious in its criteria? Everything is a form of writing. That has to be a key component of anything we do as Asian Americans. My advance for The Committed, after I won the Pulitzer Prize, was frankly still smaller than the first-time advances for a lot of unknown white writers. So I have an Excel sheet where I track the writers I’m reading: how many Americans and non-Americans, how many white people, how many people of color, how many men or women, trans or non-binary, just so that I know where my interests are falling. This character goes through a lot in The Sympathizer but goes through even more in The Committed, which is all good for the reader because a suffering character is dramatically interesting. Submissions for Columbia Journal‘s 2020 Winter Contest will open in all categories on November 15, 2020. Writing The Refugees really was 10,000 hours of sitting in a room by myself. But we were simultaneously forgotten because we only appeared as background. Lan Cao, The Lotus and the Storm. The spy novel was the genre that was a … He is also the author of the nonfiction books Nothing Ever Dies and Race and Resistance. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. VTN: I’d always wanted to be a novelist. At a time of rising xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment in the United States and elsewhere, Nguyen’s fiction, academic writing, and media commentary remind us of the need to keep … But pounding my head against the wall for 20 years with that book meant that somehow I had broken through and learned how to write without really understanding how. All these questions around isolation factor into the book. Viet Thanh Nguyen had no intention of writing a sequel to "The Sympathizer," his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a French-Vietnamese undercover agent working for Communist forces during the end of the Vietnam War. The Pulitzer Prize is for American writers, and Asians are only 6% of the American population, so maybe it’s a little hard to justify the whole shortlist being Asian Americans. A big congratulations to Viet Thanh Nguyen, who is joining the Pulitzer Prize Board as its first Asian-American and Vietnamese-American member. VTN: In general, no. Read and watch select excerpts from the exhibit below, and explore the virtual exhibit here. It’s probably better that we have diverse editors of color permanently staffing journals in the publishing industry, but in the interim, those of us who are concerned can play our role in trying to introduce differences the best that we can. CJ: It’s safe to say, The Sympathizer is an enormously influential work of Asian American literature. Asian American attitudes towards that differ but I think that’s pretty much the sentiment of many Asian Americans. A perspective that is much more free and gives reign to being critical of Asian Americans. It’s critically lauded and taught in Asian American studies classes at major universities. A book is full of sensitivity and objectivity. You might think that’s just social media, but, in fact, I think of them as rough drafts of ideas for other things. It took 17 years to write 95% of The Refugees and then 3 more years to finish the last 5% and to get it published. How did the transition from short fiction to novel come about? The exhibit is designed to elicit thoughtful dialogue on a wide array of issues with … Viet Thanh Nguyen. Jay Kang 05:58. Jinwoo Chong, online editor at Columbia Journal, spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, The Refugees, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and The Memory of War, and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America, and the fiction judge of the 2020 Columbia Journal Winter Contest. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. With all the apologia and exceptions for people who are finding it difficult psychologically, emotionally, and financially during this time, this is a test for writers: can you still produce under these kinds of circumstances? adroll_adv_id = "GOLVVWX5HFG65JGBGJ26KE"; adroll_pix_id = "N4DVEK7DNNA6JJDTHUWR43"; adroll_version = "2.0"; adroll_current_page = "other"; adroll_currency = "USD"; adroll_language = "en_US"; My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writing Today, Unearthing Stories in Eudora Welty’s Garden, American Writers Museum Awarded a Grant From the Institute of Museum and Library Services to Build Online Writing Resource Focused on the Immigrant Experience. My trajectory has been that first, I was sort of a convert to the Asian American cause, believed in it deeply, and then dealt with it for a few decades. Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s been difficult for everybody. And so I dealt with my isolation and my loneliness by retreating to books and to the library. The exhibit is designed to elicit thoughtful dialogue on a wide array of issues with contemporary immigrant and refugee writers delving into questions about writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, duality, otherness and what it means to be American. By Karl Ashoka Britto. Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that when the New York Times Book Review says The Sympathizer gives voice to the voiceless, it is inaccurate. His novel The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 and a series of other awards, including an Edgar Award for Best First Novel and a Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. For example, it was clear to me that the Vietnamese had not been forgotten in American movies about the Vietnam War. And if you’d like to hear more from Nguyen, he visited the AWM along with writers Kao Kalia Yang and Vu Tran in May of 2018 to discuss the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, which they all contributed to. As Nguyen says, “I took everything I knew about this community and this lifestyle and I put it into that novel, but I did it with a difference…I wanted, in my work, to acknowledge their pain, to acknowledge their history, but I wanted to do it in a way that would also make them uncomfortable with their own assumptions. Statistically, the publishing industry is about 84% white, and when you see what small literary magazines publish and who’s on their mastheads, you see the whiteness. Books and stories, especially literature and fiction, were my salvation.”, “I believe deeply that stories are fundamental to how we see ourselves as people, as citizens, as Americans. Nguyen's debut novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among other accolades, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Carnegie Medal … A lot of readers like the book. We may not know how this COVID era and our social media habits and interaction are going to impact us as writers as a whole but try to embrace it. CJ: As our Winter Contest judge, you’ll be looking at our finalist short story submissions. CJ: A popular statement from the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg goes: “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. VTN: Cathy Park Hong’s book, Minor Feelings, which set the groundwork for that essay in The New York Times Magazine, is a great read and a book that taps into her own anger as well as the anger and suppressed rage of a lot of Asian Americans. That, in conjunction with my own history of rage and the anger I’m feeling in this moment of COVID that we’re in, means that my nonfiction book that I’m writing has a lot of rage and anger while talking about the same kinds of issues. Each week, the My America blog series introduces you to one of the writers featured in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, which can now be explored virtually. Being a guest editor is an important job. I think a lot of writers go through this. Whatever works. That was absolutely liberating. But hopefully, it’s radicalizing for some and getting others to at least think about the long history of anti-Asian violence that already exists in this country. It’s basically what a writer does, at least those of us who have the mental and emotional and financial resources to do so. VTN: I’m certainly very grateful for that and pleasantly surprised. So for better or for worse, COVID has turned out to be an opportune moment. But he soon realized something was missing in literature, “and what was missing in it were stories about people like me and my family, refugees, Vietnamese people, Asian Americans…and I wanted to write some of these stories myself.”, Nguyen first came to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee in 1975. Anti-Asian violence is something to put in the foreground, but the question of Asian American complicity is not something that we can simply put aside. People can turn to a recent issue of Ploughshares that I edited for evidence of that. Women make up probably half or more of the authors being published as well as the population consuming these published works. We were remembered, we were there in all these movies. ', and 'I could live without television, but not without books.' CJ: What advice would you give young writers during this time of upheaval, both in the world and the publishing industry? The Booker Prize, on the other hand, represents the Commonwealth. I’m working on a nonfiction book in spurts, but I take time off to write Facebook posts and Twitter posts. VTN: Right now, you could clearly have longlists for the Booker Prize and short lists for the Pulitzer Prize that are all women. I’m also writing a nonfiction book, and COVID, of course, is there in the background. Nguyen’s debut novel, The Sympathizer , and short story collection, The Refugees . Viet Thanh Nguyen February 3 2017 I am a refugee, an American, and a human being, which is important to proclaim, as there are many who think these identities cannot be reconciled. And to recognize what it feels like not to be at home because it’s that discomfort that helps us to produce something interesting in our writing. So then, The Sympathizer is successful, wins prizes, is included in syllabi, and part of me shrugs and says: that’s nice. So no doubt, it’s an added layer of stress. 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