On Winning the Pulitzer Prize

viet-smilingI got the news at around 3:15 thanks to my Twitter and Facebook feed. I sat around shocked, stunned, fielding phone calls from my publicist and doing news interviews and trying to reply to as many emails, tweets, and Facebook comments and messages as I could. I called my wonderful partner, Lan Duong. I felt queasy and struck by literary lightning. I went to do a book talk at Harvard Bookstore and was so pleased to have a conversation with so many people. I just want to say to all of you who are reading this what I’ve tried to say to the press. Of course it’s wonderful for me to get this prize. But within minutes of getting it, I knew that I owed tremendous thanks to everyone who has gone before me in the great, ongoing struggle for social justice, for peace, for genuine equality, for representation for all at every level of every society. I think of the enormous debts I owe to everyone who fought for civil rights, for radical power, for economic equity, and how all these issues are inseparable from justice in the literary world. No minority writer, no writer of color, can claim that he or she accomplished anything purely on their own merit. We all owe so much to the collective struggles and activists that preceded us, that laid the foundations for our individual achievement, to everyone lucky enough to be remembered and so many who have been forgotten. Great love to Asian American Studies, to Ethnic Studies, to UC Berkeley, my alma mater that made me into the person that I am, to all who fight the good fight and who will never, ever believe that they are only individuals. All your messages to me registering the pride you feel in my accomplishment as a friend, as a fellow scholar or writer, as an Asian American/ist, as a Vietnamese or Vietnamese American–all of this affirms to me that we who wish to be are part of a movement, of movements, for love, peace, justice, and not least of all great literature. I will respond to all of you over the next few days, but for now, thanks so much for your kind words.

Category: News


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  1. Anne Albaugh says:

    I loved the Sympathizer…it brought Vietnam to me in a way that marriage to a U.S. Marine near the DMZ in 1966/1967 and later as a war protestor did not. America seems unable to have any backward glance to thoughtfully assess what we do and what we don’t do. So many lives lost and so many ruined, all for bullshit reasons. We are still at it, failing to see the world through anyone’s eyes but ours. I hope you write another novel. You won the Pulitzer, how cool is that! Congratulations.

  2. Robert Halper says:

    Thanks for your reply. It’s an honor to hear from you. It turns out we know a person in common: Liz Cohen from Harvard. We grew up together as neighbors at our summer houses near Easthampton, before it became to rich and crowded. As the philosopher Yogi Berra would say: “It’s too crowded, nobody goes there anymore!” We’ve remained friends ever since. I notice you’re scheduled to speak at Columbia U. next April. I look forward to seeing you there (I live in New Jersey)

  3. Robert Halper says:

    You deserved this prize and all the other prizes and acclaim. What a brilliant book, not easy to read, but brilliant. Several times I had to put it down to digest it, but I was always drawn back to it, as if spellbound. I read a lot of your interviews about the book and they were helpful in clarifying some of the themes. And I must say I am still obsessed with the multiple meanings of “nothing!” One thing that wasn’t mentioned, but struck me is how similar the Commandant and the General were. Both self-righteous and confident in their divergent beliefs, sort of an allegory for what’s happening in our country today. Thanks for the great read! Nothing is not better than a good book!?

    • Viet says:

      thanks for reading, Robert! As for the Commandant and the General, enemies are often mirror images of each other.

  4. Susan Rogers says:

    Dear Professor Nguyen: I write to say how much I admire and enjoy your novel. Stunning imagery and such beautiful work! I lived in Orange County, CA, when Vietnamese refugees arrived in the ’70s. Several worked under my supervision in a biomedical lab. I couldn’t imagine what they had been through, and my heart ached for them. I appreciated hearing their stories. Without exception, these folks worked incredibly diligently and graciously despite carrying what must have been extreme psychological burdens. On top of that, they were kind and open to friendship. I’ve since hoped for a better understanding of the Vietnamese people. I am grateful to you for this outstanding work!

  5. Tham Hoang says:

    Looking forward to see you in Houston one of those days to get autographed books for my family and friends. I am very proud of you and wish you good luck. Great example for our Vietnamese community!

  6. Clare Grossman says:

    As soon as the Prize was announced, I downloaded a copy from Amazon. But I was mortified that it cost only $5.00, far too little for such a masterpiece. I had my book club read it, plus I purchased a few copies for family members so I am doing my bit to increase sales! Watched Apocolypse Now this weekend and may re-read Neil Sheehan. Your book deeply moved me. ?

    • Viet says:

      bless your heart, Clare! The $5 was probably a sale price. I’m glad the book was meaningful for you.

  7. Ron Smith says:

    Viet Thanh Nguyen, I love your book …gives me such insight to your native country during the time I was protesting the war….thank you and I will pursure some of the books you mention in your acknowledgements…
    thanks again.

    Warm Regards, Ron Smith

  8. bachi Karkaria says:

    It must be a great feeling. It will be a greater one to have you as star speaker at The Times Litfest, Mumbai, Dec 2-4, 2016. Pl do send a mail to bachi.karkaria@gmail.com, and I’ll send you a formal invite and details. Congrats again.

  9. Anita Razin says:

    Only on page 40, but I am overcome, riveted, profoundly moved, utterly grateful, so impressed, spell bound savoring each sentence, in shock, in tears, laughing bitterly. Your genius is so necessary to the current literary landscape. Bravo, kudos, I bow down to you!!!!! Thank YOU from the depth of my heart and soul.

  10. Nina C says:

    Thank you for your beautiful work. Thought provoking — a true invitation to reconsider and explore our history and condition — and an example of truly great literature. Thank you. I continue to be so proud of our Vietnamese-American community.

  11. David says:

    Congratulations. This is certainly a great moment for you, for Asian Americans, for those who struggle for equality and justice. But your recognition is also a hopeful reminder of the America we could have. All the best,

  12. Minh Chau Truong says:

    I am so proud to learn about this.
    Congratulations Mr Nguyen. I tried to order the book to display at our Cultural Booth at the annual Asian American Celebration in Richmond Va. Unfortunately the book will arrive only in early June/.end of May which is 10 days after the event.

  13. Srilata Gangulee says:

    Congratulations, Professor Nguyen for the Pulitzer. Beause I had bought The Sympathizer as soon as it was available, I congratulated myself as well. Just placed an order for Nothing Ever Dies. Hope you will get the Nobel Prize.

    • Viet says:

      I’m just happy you also ordered Nothing Ever Dies. thanks for being an early supporter, Srilata.

  14. Linh Do says:

    I browsed my Berkeley Online email news yesterday casually…headliners about Clintons, Conan at Berkeley…I thought “wow, I miss Berkeley.” And then I see a photo under the Alumni section, and I looked twice. I know that face! It’s yours, Viet!
    We haven’t met for 20 years easily since Berkeley VSA and all the extracurricular stuff. I was very elated when I heard you went to USC for a faculty position. But lost track of you.
    And here we are, 2016. The Pulitzer Prize for your novel, the 1st, nonetheless!!! What an accomplishment!!! WOW!!!
    I could hardly believe the headline…sorry about that initial reaction. I never expected for our refugee/immigrant generation, that such a “barrier” would be broken. A Pulitzer Prize for a Vietnamese American writer seemed completely out of the question in my lifetime.
    Many many many congratulations!!!
    Your talent has blossomed leaps and bounds. No matter how humble you are (and I’m really touched by your humility), your talent and its product have been nationally validated and acknowledged. I’m so proud to witness this achievement. Thank you for being you, and for pursuing what is most meaningful to you. And please keep on going.
    I have to admit I’m reading Hemingway this year to catch up on what I didn’t read in my younger years, but I’ll have to make The Sympathizer my next read. And I will drink a nice champagne toast to you!!!

    • admin says:

      so awesome to hear from you, Linh! I well remember your presence at Zellerbach and your great smile. And whatever it took to get us back in touch, I’m glad we are.

  15. CONG TRINH says:

    Congratulation to my fellow UC Berkeley alumni. I took a course in Asian American Studies in 1979. Just like you I left Vietnam in 1975.

  16. John Zulovitz says:

    Being a writer means also being an avid reader. Being both, no day passes during which I fail to crack open a book. As my literary taste hews toward the eclectic, and tends to be voracious, I have discovered myself to be one of those benign gluttons who enjoys masticating not on pastries and meats, but on words and ideas; and being so inclined, I am always looking to attend a good banquet.

    Last month, while at a neighborhood bookstore, I came across a novel on whose back cover was printed a blurb by Robert Olen Butler, whose work I admire greatly, and whom I have the great pleasure of calling a friend.

    If there’s one thing of which I can be sure in this world, it’s that if Bob says a novel is worth a read, then it is. Which is why, after saving my pennies, I returned to the bookstore and purchased The Sympathizer.

    Although it clocks in at just under 400 pages, the novel is epic in its rendering; a diasporic marvel of a story whose characters manifest not merely as constructs hatched from the imagination of a supremely talented writer, but as flesh-and-blood human beings fully equipped with flaws and attributes, with souls and hearts and minds, and with whom a reader may have the joy of spending countless hours. (Yes, this novel has cost me sleep, and I do not for a moment regret those lost hours.)

    I’ve read every Pulitzer Prize-winner for Fiction, and The Sympathizer rates among the best of those for which such an honor has been bestowed. I am humbled and in awe of your talent, sobering discernment, and humanity, Mr. Nguyen. With this novel, you have made both literature and the world the better for it. Like the best art, you have reminded us how we as a species are capable not only of feeling empathy, but of extending it to others.

    Bravo, sir!

  17. Kanwalroop Kaur Singh says:

    I graduated from Cal two years ago, where I majored in Ethnic Studies and minored in Creative Writing. I had to fight my Punjabi Sikh parents long and hard for that. They still think I wasted my time. But you make me feel absolutely sure that I didn’t. What I learned there has also made me who I am and I thank you for being an example for me, an inspiration at times when I look all around me and can find no future.

    • admin says:

      being creative is a lonely path, even at best. Find community, find allies, find solidarity.

  18. John Zulovitz says:

    As a writer, I am also an avid reader. When it comes to literature, my tastes hew on the side of the eclectic. Because of Robert Olen Butler’s remarks regarding your novel, I purchased it a few months ago. Since then, I have become a mental traveler. With my imagination acting as passport, I have been following the route of your wonderful — and wonderfully lucid — prose, the subject of which is a turbulent time in two countries’ histories wedded by a horrific war. How delighted I was to learn that your debut novel (destined to become a classic) was recognized by the Pulitzer jury and board. To date, I have read every Pulitzer winner for Fiction, and though I am still reading your novel (I prefer to go slowly, drinking in the sounds and colors, the textures and shapes, of the world you’ve created from the dark tapestry of history), it gives me no small pleasure to say that not only is it a commendable choice, it is perhaps one of the best that has been made as regards the Pulitzers.

    I am humbled, sir, and grateful to have the opportunity of reading such an intelligent, sharply imagined novel. Though ours is a species afflicted by a crippling predilection to divide, dismiss, and destroy unity, the best art reminds us that, regardless of the ways we may be different, we are also quite often the same. In addition to its many other accomplishments, The Sympathizer stands as a supreme example of this, and reminds us how art, at its best, does not merely manage to entertain, but also to remind us that we are capable of feeling and extending to others that which is known as “empathy.”

  19. I am in awe ofyour gracious, humble response to this honor. But, for just a moment, I’d like to put all the people and things you give credit to aside. For just a moment, I just want to tell YOU alone that you’ve accomplished a great thing and I hope you’ll take a moment to just be proud of it. All the influences and helps that brought you here are an amazing and wonderful gift- a gift that would have had no impact without your willingness to write in the first place. So kudos to you, for your effort, your work, and your amazingly humble heart. Enjoy it.

    • admin says:

      thanks so much, Jeannette. I do feel some pride in the writing. I also feel genuine appreciation for everyone else before me. It’s dangerous not to remember the latter, for fear of only believing in the former. the love for others, and the love of others, keeps us human in the best way.

  20. Dau Le says:

    Prof. Nguyen,
    I really want to buy few ‘Sympathizer’ with your signature
    in order make gift to my Vietnamese friends in US,France and VN.
    Could you tell me how can I do?. I live far away from big city . Thanks. Dau Le

    • admin says:

      just really difficult right now for me to do that, Dau. If you have friends in any of the cities I’m speaking at (see my events page) that would be the best route.

  21. Congratulations on the Pulitzer!

  22. Hertha Sweet Wong says:

    Dear Viet,
    We don’t know each other. I think we met briefly long ago in the Berkeley English Department. I’m a Berkeley faculty member teaching a contemporary novel course on the latest Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. First, I’d like to congratulate you on your Pulitzer, but the main reason I am writing is to thank you on behalf of my students who were thrilled to hear about your award. Tomorrow I will read them your comments. I know the students, many of them aspiring writers and many of them students of color, will be as moved as I am by your words. Thank you.
    Sincerely yours,
    Hertha Sweet Wong

    • admin says:

      Dear Hertha, of course I remember you! My time in the English department was fundamental to me. Thanks for the kind words and for remembering me at all. Say hello to your students for me; I was once one of them.

  23. Maureen V Nguyen says:

    Professor Viet
    Thank you so very much for making us proud of being Vietnamese. Now I can say I’m Vietnamese and I have the same last name to prove it 🙂
    May God bless you always.

  24. Diep Nguyen says:


    I am proud of you. Keep up the good work.

    Take care,