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. 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. 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. Think about your writing persona as one that is complete. You have certain idols and certain dreams about what you can accomplish. Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen: The lessons out of the Vietnam War for Americans have been two-fold with positive and negative lessons. 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. The library was my second home. However, for Asian Americans overall, especially the ones whose voices are ultimately heard, racism hasn’t been a factor in their lives. What was the ethnic studies program at Cal like and when you're there? 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. 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.. But outside of those circumstances, I think writers need to simply confront our isolation with our own words and our own thoughts. In writing workshops, that was the preferred mode by which the writer learned to write. 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. 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. A person whose every act of writing is a part of their writing persona. VTN: I’m certainly very grateful for that and pleasantly surprised. 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. There’s still at least one more story. Submissions for Columbia Journal‘s 2020 Winter Contest will open in all categories on November 15, 2020. Whatever works. They were subject to all kinds of violence and discrimination that were worse than what’s happening now. 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. I think, in general, I’ve been fortunate because I have a place to weather COVID and I can go out and take walks. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 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 … 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. The same thing has to happen in the publishing industry. A list of only Asian American or Asian or Black writers and so on: why not? VTN: Right now, you could clearly have longlists for the Booker Prize and short lists for the Pulitzer Prize that are all women. I chose a variety of stylistic approaches to fiction and nonfiction. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist. They enjoy it and read it pretty quickly, which is not the way it was written. 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. So, yes, once you start talking about these things, the absurdity of having a shortlist that’s all white men becomes very clear. Any kind of writing is alright. I think, in the end, it’s really just a matter of whatever moves me. 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. Turn it on in browser settings to view this mobile website. Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks with Jinwoo Chong about anti-Asian sentiments, writing, and the publishing industry for Columbia Journal. 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. 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 … Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor. And so I dealt with my isolation and my loneliness by retreating to books and to the library. That’s all a part of the process. But after he finished it, he realized he wasn't done exploring "the misadventures" of his complicated protagonist. There is, by now, a significant body of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese literature translated into English. 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. 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. All these questions around isolation factor into the book. We need to examine the role that prejudice plays, even if not explicitly, in who gets published in journals. They can live their isolated lives in ways that they would have anyways but is now seen as the norm for everybody else. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. CJ: How would you envision teaching these recent events in a class about Asian American history? 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. 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. 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. That has to be a key component of anything we do as Asian Americans. 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. 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. 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? The publishing world works in layers. I’m also writing a nonfiction book, and COVID, of course, is there in the background. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. It continues the conversation of race and colonialism in Paris and in France and confronts a different kind of imperialism than American imperialism. The spy novel was the genre that was a … 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. Rise against abusive power or stand with our back turned to the abuse of power. An epic about the shattering impact of the Vietnam War on one … Nguyen: Disremembering is the experience of being remembered and forgotten at the same time. His new collection is The Refugees (Corsair), from which this story is … It is up to Asian Americans to criticize fellow Asian Americans when they say and do these kinds of things. 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen received his Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley. 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. Nguyen was in third grade. 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist and short-story writer. 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. The next time I teach an Asian American studies class, I’m definitely going to teach Cathy’s book. 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. 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. 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. 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.' Currently you have JavaScript disabled. I’m working on a nonfiction book in spurts, but I take time off to write Facebook posts and Twitter posts. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I had to write a novel. It’s critically lauded and taught in Asian American studies classes at major universities. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. This transcript has been edited for clarity. Nguyen’s debut novel, The Sympathizer , and short story collection, The Refugees . A big congratulations to Viet Thanh Nguyen, who is joining the Pulitzer Prize Board as its first Asian-American and Vietnamese-American member. Mine is Viet Thanh Nguyen, although I was born in Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Viet. So for better or for worse, COVID has turned out to be an opportune moment. 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. The Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, he lives in Los Angeles. So after 20 years of suffering to be a writer, I reached the moment where I felt: this doesn’t matter 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. Being surrounded by fellow refugees gave Nguyen a sense of his Vietnamese heritage and greatly impacted his writing, especially The Sympathizer. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen joins the Pulitzer Prize board as its first Vietnamese-American member. Writing short stories was a completely miserable experience. 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. You might think that’s just social media, but, in fact, I think of them as rough drafts of ideas for other things. That was half my committee. Love it or leave it. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. 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. Let’s talk about that! The novel is written from the perspective of a Communist spy, something unacceptable to his Vietnamese refugee community. Viet Thanh Nguyen Is The Pro-Refugee Voice America Needs To Hear. 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. So then, The Sympathizer is successful, wins prizes, is included in syllabi, and part of me shrugs and says: that’s nice. 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 … I also think there are various kinds of theoretical political issues that The Sympathizer brings up that I had not finished exploring. What’s very clear by the time you finish reading The Committed is that the story’s not finished yet. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. I wrote short stories as my mode of apprenticeship in writing. 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. There was no joy in it. Read and watch select excerpts from the exhibit below, and explore the virtual exhibit here. It’s obviously a great thing to know that there are people teaching these books. 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. 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Long before Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, the public library in San Jose gave him an award for his debut book, Lester the Cat. Viet Thanh Nguyen 05:44. 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. 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. 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. Did you envision this story as larger than one book from the outset? 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. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. By Karl Ashoka Britto. 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. 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. 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. ', 'If youth was not wasted, how could it be youth? 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? 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. But it was basically half ethnic studies. 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. That’s all the English-speaking countries that the British colonized! Lan Cao, The Lotus and the Storm. 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. That’s the reality for writers. But we were simultaneously forgotten because we only appeared as background. Women make up probably half or more of the authors being published as well as the population consuming these published works. 482 quotes from Viet Thanh Nguyen: 'Nothing is ever so expensive as what is offered for free. 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. ', and 'I could live without television, but not without books.' 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 … 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. The nonfiction book talks about me but also about these political and economic problems of inequality and injustice. CJ: It’s safe to say, The Sympathizer is an enormously influential work of Asian American literature. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. 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. A book is full of sensitivity and objectivity. And if you have prizes that include translations… the majority of the world’s population is people of color. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page. 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. People of all kinds who are subject to their own unexamined tastes and prejudices are selecting what gets published, including myself. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Being a guest editor is an important job. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. 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. I don’t know how the hype mechanism works for why certain books get these six and seven-figure advances. A perspective that is much more free and gives reign to being critical of Asian Americans. When it comes to the Vietnam War, Vietnamese refugees in America and the Vietnamese diaspora, … 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? 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. It was a matter of practice. The Vietnamese people and Vietnamese Americans have voices. 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. And for some people, it may even be a good thing. So no doubt, it’s an added layer of stress. VTN: I don’t think there’s anything new about it. Sometimes it can work to the benefit of writers of color. “Those of us who are refugees and immigrants or who support them, we have to use every tool at our disposal, including our writing.”. That’s the terrain of The Committed. Viet Thanh Nguyen 06:04. 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. Everything is a form of writing. CJ: As our Winter Contest judge, you’ll be looking at our finalist short story submissions. 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. It just probably depends on the criteria. My America: Viet Thanh Nguyen. 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. Asian American attitudes towards that differ but I think that’s pretty much the sentiment of many Asian Americans. 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. There were also the politics of gender, sexuality, and heterosexuality that I needed to continue working through. And we’re living at a time in our country when the fact of storytelling is ever present. 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? No one knows how to cut you down like another Vietnamese person, who’ll do it with a smile. He is also the author of the nonfiction books Nothing Ever Dies and Race and Resistance. Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s been difficult for everybody. I think Ginsburg is correct in that regard. 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 Refugees' Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares memories of being a refugee from South Vietnam. I thought they would be easier to writer than a novel because they’re short, which, of course, was a false belief. Women have had to write books while taking care of their families that their husbands were neglecting. 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. After writing many short stories, I found I could write a novel. I’m happy and grateful, but it’s not really what it’s about. How did the transition from short fiction to novel come about? We were remembered, we were there in all these movies. “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.”. 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. 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.”. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. So, it was actually a relief not to have to teach Asian American studies in the last couple of years at USC.

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