american like me viet thanh nguyen

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Dec 02

Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks with Jinwoo Chong about anti-Asian sentiments, writing, and the publishing industry for Columbia Journal. I’m working on a nonfiction book in spurts, but I take time off to write Facebook posts and Twitter posts. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist and short-story writer. 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. We need to examine the role that prejudice plays, even if not explicitly, in who gets published in journals. I’m also interested in working out theoretical political issues in the fiction. You have certain idols and certain dreams about what you can accomplish. The Vietnamese people and Vietnamese Americans have voices. 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 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. Whatever works. 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 … Think about your writing persona as one that is complete. 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. 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.' 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. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. It is up to Asian Americans to criticize fellow Asian Americans when they say and do these kinds of things. There were also the politics of gender, sexuality, and heterosexuality that I needed to continue working through. The nonfiction book talks about me but also about these political and economic problems of inequality and injustice. 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. 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. 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 … 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.”. 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. 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. This is deeply problematic. But I have to say, honestly, I’ve been dealing with Asian American issues since I was 19 at Berkeley. Nguyen: Disremembering is the experience of being remembered and forgotten at the same time. Let’s talk about that! 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. 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. 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. And so I dealt with my isolation and my loneliness by retreating to books and to the library. 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? You might think that’s just social media, but, in fact, I think of them as rough drafts of ideas for other things. An epic about the shattering impact of the Vietnam War on one … Turn it on in browser settings to view this mobile website. Why can’t you have an entire longlist composed of Asian international authors if your prize is that capacious in its criteria? Writing short stories was a completely miserable experience. 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. Read and watch select excerpts from the exhibit below, and explore the virtual exhibit here. 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. This week, get to know Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer. 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. But after he finished it, he realized he wasn't done exploring "the misadventures" of his complicated protagonist. How does it feel to see your work reach those heights? We were remembered, we were there in all these movies. 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. How did the transition from short fiction to novel come about? 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. There is, by now, a significant body of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese literature translated into English. 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. 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”. 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. And then I stayed on to do my PhD in English, from 92 to 97. 482 quotes from Viet Thanh Nguyen: 'Nothing is ever so expensive as what is offered for free. Being a guest editor is an important job. 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. 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. It was transformative for me. It’s obviously a great thing to know that there are people teaching these books. So no doubt, it’s an added layer of stress. 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. Women make up probably half or more of the authors being published as well as the population consuming these published works. “Those of us who are refugees and immigrants or who support them, we have to use every tool at our disposal, including our writing.”. What was the ethnic studies program at Cal like and when you're there? CJ: What advice would you give young writers during this time of upheaval, both in the world and the publishing industry? It’s critically lauded and taught in Asian American studies classes at major universities. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 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. My America: Viet Thanh Nguyen. Lan Cao, The Lotus and the Storm. He is also the author of the nonfiction books Nothing Ever Dies and Race and Resistance. Viet Thanh Nguyen. 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. A perspective that is much more free and gives reign to being critical of Asian Americans. Viet Thanh Nguyen received his Ph.D. in English from UC Berkeley. 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 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. People can turn to a recent issue of Ploughshares that I edited for evidence of that. There’s still at least one more story. 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. This transcript has been edited for clarity. 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. 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. VTN: The conditions under which we’re writing are extreme for Americans but not extreme for much of the world much of the time. It’s a good place to be as a writer. 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. 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. 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. 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. And if you have prizes that include translations… the majority of the world’s population is people of color. 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. 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 … Every moment of writing is an exercise of who you are as a writer. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist. thanks for reading, and for your comments. 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. That was what it was like for me. 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. 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. CJ: As our Winter Contest judge, you’ll be looking at our finalist short story submissions. The Refugees' Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares memories of being a refugee from South Vietnam. A list of only Asian American or Asian or Black writers and so on: why not? Nguyen’s first novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. What’s very clear by the time you finish reading The Committed is that the story’s not finished yet. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. 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. 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. For example, it was clear to me that the Vietnamese had not been forgotten in American movies about the Vietnam War. They enjoy it and read it pretty quickly, which is not the way it was written. As an Asian American writer, I’m not interested in just telling the story, although telling stories is important. Any kind of writing is alright. The novel is written from the perspective of a Communist spy, something unacceptable to his Vietnamese refugee community. Writing The Refugees really was 10,000 hours of sitting in a room by myself. 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. That’s the reality for writers. 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? The Booker Prize, on the other hand, represents the Commonwealth. Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that when the New York Times Book Review says The Sympathizer gives voice to the voiceless, it is inaccurate. 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. A big congratulations to Viet Thanh Nguyen, who is joining the Pulitzer Prize Board as its first Asian-American and Vietnamese-American member. That was absolutely liberating. 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. 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. 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. Everything is a form of writing. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. They were subject to all kinds of violence and discrimination that were worse than what’s happening now. Being surrounded by fellow refugees gave Nguyen a sense of his Vietnamese heritage and greatly impacted his writing, especially The Sympathizer. CJ: How would you envision teaching these recent events in a class about Asian American history? And works by writers who are clearly from non-white, non-privileged backgrounds need to get second looks. 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. 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. 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. In writing workshops, that was the preferred mode by which the writer learned to write. They can live their isolated lives in ways that they would have anyways but is now seen as the norm for everybody else. “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.”. Posted on May 19, 2020. 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. VTN: Right now, you could clearly have longlists for the Booker Prize and short lists for the Pulitzer Prize that are all women. Whichever way you arrange my name, it is not a typical American name. 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. 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. If you care too much, it’s a miserable experience. I thought they would be easier to writer than a novel because they’re short, which, of course, was a false belief. 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. May 19, 2020. by American Writers Museum. 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. Jay Kang 05:58. No one knows how to cut you down like another Vietnamese person, who’ll do it with a smile. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. A lot of readers like the book. 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. 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. 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. 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. However, for Asian Americans overall, especially the ones whose voices are ultimately heard, racism hasn’t been a factor in their lives. 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. 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 Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor. I think a lot of writers go through this. Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen: The lessons out of the Vietnam War for Americans have been two-fold with positive and negative lessons. Nguyen’s debut novel, The Sympathizer , and short story collection, The Refugees . So, it was actually a relief not to have to teach Asian American studies in the last couple of years at USC. The next time I teach an Asian American studies class, I’m definitely going to teach Cathy’s book. Viet Thanh Nguyen became the first Vietnamese American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, The Sympathizer, this year. Solidarity or complicity. Currently you have JavaScript disabled. Did you envision this story as larger than one book from the outset? The Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, he lives in Los Angeles. His new collection is The Refugees (Corsair), from which this story is … I’m also writing a nonfiction book, and COVID, of course, is there in the background. It was a matter of practice. 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. "He's alive at the end of the book and he's learned … He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Mine is Viet Thanh Nguyen, although I was born in Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Viet. CJ: It’s safe to say, The Sympathizer is an enormously influential work of Asian American literature. Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s been difficult for everybody. Up until that point I thought I was either an American, or Vietnamese. 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. 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. That was half my committee. 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.. VTN: I’d always wanted to be a novelist. Rise against abusive power or stand with our back turned to the abuse of power. 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. A book is full of sensitivity and objectivity. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. I never thought about being a short story writer until I got to college and discovered that short stories were a thing. 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. 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. So after 20 years of suffering to be a writer, I reached the moment where I felt: this doesn’t matter anymore. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. That has to be a key component of anything we do as Asian 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 … That’s the terrain of The Committed. 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 plenty of evidence that the literary industry is not immune to the problems around race, diversity, and inclusion that are endemic within American society. People have got to keep track of statistics. I think, in the end, it’s really just a matter of whatever moves me. 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. I think, in general, I’ve been fortunate because I have a place to weather COVID and I can go out and take walks. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. Try to make something useful out of what’s been forced upon all of us. 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? 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? I wrote short stories as my mode of apprenticeship in writing. The same thing has to happen in the publishing industry. Viet Thanh Nguyen I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. 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. A person whose every act of writing is a part of their writing persona. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I had to write a novel. That’s all the English-speaking countries that the British colonized! I think Ginsburg is correct in that regard. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. And for some people, it may even be a good thing. 1990-1992 because I transferred in from UCLA. T he face of Tou Thao … Obviously, some writers of color do get the hype as well, but disproportionately so. VTN: I don’t think there’s anything new about it. Women have had to write books while taking care of their families that their husbands were neglecting. All these questions around isolation factor into the book. 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. VTN: I participated in this. By Karl Ashoka Britto. It continues the conversation of race and colonialism in Paris and in France and confronts a different kind of imperialism than American imperialism. 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. I don’t think that would be a problem. 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. 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. 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. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. 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…

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