Over 40 years after he fled Vietnam with his family during the Vietnam War, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen will be coming to Cornell on Thursday to read from his book about refugees.
A Vietnamese-American, Viet Thanh Nguyen and his parents came to the U.S. in 1975 after the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War. Given his experience as a refugee, Nguyen has been active in the media as a cultural critic on U.S. policies on refugees and other displaced peoples, according to the event description.
“We are so excited to have Viet coming,” Helena Maria Viramontes, director of the Creative Writing Program told The Sun. “He is one of the most prolific and elegant public intellectuals, speaking on immigration, on ethnic studies and on crafting novels like The Sympathizer.”
Nguyen currently serves as a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times and as a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. He is also a professor of comparative literature, English and American Studies and Ethnicity, at the University of Southern California.
His reading is the last event of the fall 2018 Barbara and David Zalaznick Reading Series, which is sponsored by the creative writing program within Cornell’s English department.
The Sympathizer, which is Nguyen’s debut novel, takes place in Saigon at the same year Nguyen left Vietnam and won him the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, among other awards. The story is about a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who made it to Los Angeles after the fall of Saigon. While he was helping other refugees with building a new life, he was also secretly reporting back to the communist Vietnamese government.
The narrator describes being an expat in the United States and a consultant for an American film. Nguyen also published a collection of short stories titled The Refugees in 2017.
Viramontes said Nguyen “likely will read from The Sympathizer,” but that “whatever he reads, I believe it will be relevant to today’s times, graceful and eloquent.”
The reading will take place on Thursday, October 25, at 4:30 p.m. at the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase, and Nguyen will be signing copies at a reception immediately following the event in the English Lounge, 258 Goldwin Smith Hall.
On Friday, the department will also sponsor a breakfast for undergraduate and graduate students who can’t make the reading but still wish to speak with Ngyuen, Viramontes told The Sun, as the opportunity to listen to a writer read and discuss their work live is a “rare opportunity.”
“After attending our reading series, people often tell me that it was the first time they have seen a live writer,” Viramontes said. “We may take it of granted being here at Cornell, but it is rare to sit in an audience and listen to someone speak with grace and beauty, like Viet.”