5 Questions with Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen is interviewed by Chris Carosi of City Lights Bookstore.

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City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The first time I visited City Lights was around 1996, when I was a graduate student at Berkeley. I was on a date with a beautiful girl whom I had met when she came to a poetry reading I had organized and read a poem at the open mic. No surprise, she’s now my wife. The fact that we were both thrilled to visit City Lights was a good early sign that we had something in common.


CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

VTN: “The Hours,” by Philip Glass, and “Lady’s Bridge,” by Richard Hawley. I listened to both extensively during the writing of the book, each one doing something different to get me in the mood. “The Hours” was haunting and repetitive (in a good way), “Lady’s Bridge” was sorrowful and melancholic. All those adjectives can be used to describe parts of my novel, at least in my imagination of it.


CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

VTN: I have no idea. I remember going to the library in Harrisburg, PA, with my parents, where we had settled as refugees. I remember getting books from a book truck, too. But the first book I can clearly remember is a book I didn’t like, Where the Wild Things Are. That makes me weird, right? But I was a young refugee living in a dark house, and I didn’t need a fantasy world of dark things. I was already living in that world.


CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

VTN: A professor. Which is what I am. Professor/writer, Jekyll/Hyde.


CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

VTN: My wife, my son, and a magic lamp with three wishes.


Category: Interviews


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