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. 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. 1990-1992 because I transferred in from UCLA. What was the ethnic studies program at Cal like and when you're there? And if you have prizes that include translations… the majority of the world’s population is people of color. 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. And for some people, it may even be a good thing. You might think that’s just social media, but, in fact, I think of them as rough drafts of ideas for other things. “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. 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen 06:04. CJ: What advice would you give young writers during this time of upheaval, both in the world and the publishing industry? Writing short stories was a completely miserable experience. 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. But it was basically half ethnic studies. 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 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 works by writers who are clearly from non-white, non-privileged backgrounds need to get second looks. 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Nguyen’s debut novel, The Sympathizer , and short story collection, The Refugees . 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. How does it feel to see your work reach those heights? Turn it on in browser settings to view this mobile website. Click here for instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your browser. 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. The next time I teach an Asian American studies class, I’m definitely going to teach Cathy’s book. There were also the politics of gender, sexuality, and heterosexuality that I needed to continue working through. I don’t think that would be a problem. Did you envision this story as larger than one book from the outset? The publishing world works in layers. So then, The Sympathizer is successful, wins prizes, is included in syllabi, and part of me shrugs and says: that’s nice. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. If you care too much, it’s a miserable experience. That’s the terrain of The Committed. 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. 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. I’m happy and grateful, but it’s not really what it’s about. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. After writing many short stories, I found I could write a novel. The Vietnamese people and Vietnamese Americans have voices. I’m working on a nonfiction book in spurts, but I take time off to write Facebook posts and Twitter posts. By Karl Ashoka Britto. 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. 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. Writing The Refugees really was 10,000 hours of sitting in a room by myself. Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen: The lessons out of the Vietnam War for Americans have been two-fold with positive and negative lessons. It’s a good place to be as a writer. 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. VTN: I’m certainly very grateful for that and pleasantly surprised. 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. 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. Solidarity or complicity. In writing workshops, that was the preferred mode by which the writer learned to write. Lan Cao, The Lotus and the Storm. 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. It was a matter of practice. The library was my second home. 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. That was absolutely liberating. Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that when the New York Times Book Review says The Sympathizer gives voice to the voiceless, it is inaccurate. 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. 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 had no intention of writing a sequel to “The Sympathizer,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a French-Vietnamese undercover agent working for … 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. 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. Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor. 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. The novel is written from the perspective of a Communist spy, something unacceptable to his Vietnamese refugee community. 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. 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. I think Ginsburg is correct in that regard. 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. 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