USC Dornsife’s Viet Thanh Nguyen follows up his Pulitzer Prize win for fiction with a spot on the short list of the National Book Awards — this time for nonfiction. This article was originally written by Susan Bell for USC Dornsife News & Events.
Nguyen was among five authors selected for this honor in the nonfiction category for his book Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press, 2016). His inclusion in the short list made headlines in The New York Times.
No stranger to literary laurels, Nguyen has already racked up a raft of honors since the publication of his debut novel The Sympathizer (Grove Press) last year. The book, which presents the Vietnam War from multiple perspectives through the lens of its protagonist, an American-educated spy for the Viet Cong, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Nguyen considers Nothing Ever Dies as the nonfiction sequel to his novel, saying each book illuminates the other.
He greeted the “wonderful news” that Nothing Ever Dies is a finalist for the National Book Award by saying that he really didn’t think the book would make it this far, adding that he was “gratified, for obvious reasons.”
“The nomination is recognition of how I wanted this serious, theoretical, and challenging book to be accessible,” Nguyen said. “I wrote it for both academics and specialists, and interested lay readers. I hope the success of the book inspires other academics to believe that they don’t have to compromise their scholarly work in order to reach a larger audience.”
Congratulations and tributes
Many of Nguyen’s colleagues applauded his success and extolled his virtues both as an author and a scholar.
“Professor Nguyen’s achievement with Nothing Ever Dies, coming on the heels of a Pulitzer Prize for his path-breaking debut novel, The Sympathizer, marks his presence as one of the leading commentators on modern America and its place in the world,” said USC Dornsife Dean Amber Miller. “I am delighted that he is among our exceptional USC Dornsife faculty and I am pleased to congratulate him on yet another well-earned honor.”
University Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Chair of English David St. John noted that in Nothing Ever Dies, Nguyen has written a deeply personal yet highly scholarly meditation on the ethics of memory, using America’s war in Vietnam as the crux of what are often searing questions.
“As in Viet’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer, his readers are confronted with America’s willful cultural amnesia and the expense we continue to face because of our refusals to remember,” St. John said. “Both of Viet’s books insist that we reconsider the past 50 years of American history.
“Personally, it has been very exciting to see Viet take his place as a public intellectual. His lectures and public appearances, as well as his journalistic essays and op-ed pieces, are helping all of us to re-shape our thinking about memory and war — not only America’s war in Vietnam, but about all wars.”
Peter Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and vice dean for the humanities and social sciences, said he was delighted, and not at all surprised, to learn that Nothing Ever Dies has been named as a finalist for the National Book Award.
“Viet is among a vanishingly small pool of scholar-artists capable of expanding our understanding of the modern world through his brilliant The Sympathizer and now with a stunning work of non-fiction,” he said. “His work — and I say this as a historian — is doing nothing less than reshaping our understanding of the history of the Pacific Rim.”
Established in 1950 and administered by the nonprofit National Book Foundation, the National Book Award is one of the nation’s most prestigious literary prizes. Finalists were announced Oct. 6. Winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on Nov. 16.
This is the second year running that USC Dornsife scholars have ranked highly in the National Book Awards. Doctoral candidate Robin Coste Lewis won the 2015 National Book Award in the poetry category for her debut book, Voyage of the Sable Venus (Alfred Knopf, 2015), while alumna Angela Flournoy’s first novel, The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), was short listed in the fiction category.