Viet Thanh Nguyen wins the Center for Fiction’s 2015 First Novel Prize for ‘The Sympathizer’

Viet Thanh Nguyen wins the Center for Fiction’s 2015 First Novel Prize for The Sympathizer.

 


Here is the transcript:

Speaker 1: And the winner of the 2015 Center for Fiction first novel price is The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Viet Nguyen: Wow, this is what a prize looks like. It’s pretty incredible. On the one hand, I really didn’t expect to win. On the other hand, I have a speech. I have an insistent publicist who didn’t want me to embarrass myself, I’m very thankful for that. And I think the first thing to be said, is that I’m grateful for the company I’m with tonight. Angela, Sophie, Ben, and Laurie have all written wonderful novels. I’m honored to be among them.

Viet Nguyen: I wouldn’t be here if my agent, Matt hadn’t found a short story of mine in Tri-Quarterly. He worked incredibly hard to find these things, I guess, and I’m very lucky for that. But he said, “If you wanna be published in New York City, you have to write a novel.” I said, “Okay.”

Viet Nguyen: And that’s what I did. He and his assistant, Julie Stevenson, encouraged me along the way until my book came to the attention of a brilliant, young editor named Peter Blackstock. I can’t imagine a better fit for the novel than Peter or my publisher, Grove Atlantic, and all the fine people there. Judy Hottenson, Elizabeth Schmitz, Deb Seager, John Mark Boling, and Morgan.

Viet Nguyen: While they worked incredibly hard on my behalf, the person who suffered the most for the novel, besides myself, is my partner, Lan Duong, who couldn’t be with me tonight. I’m gonna call her right after this and tell her, “Honey, I won.”

Viet Nguyen: She has read every word of fiction I’ve published, and many of the drafts, and of course, if you have ever been unfortunate enough to have to read the drafts of a writer’s work, you know how difficult it can be to still find words of encouragement after doing that. And she was always there for me.

Viet Nguyen: The person who made me finish the novel, though, is my son, Ellison, who I named after Ralph Ellison.

Viet Nguyen: I’m sure you’ve all read Invisible Man. It’s still a novel that’s relevant to us today. It certainly was important to me when I was in college. So I named my son after Ralph Ellison and it was his impending birth that forced me to write faster. I finished the first draft of the novel two days before he was born, and then I revised the novel for the first three months of his life, working to 3 in the morning while he slept and then drinking to five in the morning.

Viet Nguyen: The best recognition I have of my work is when he points at my novel and says, “Daddy’s book.” I hope you all remember that so you can tell him that when he’s 18 and not so happy to be my son.

Viet Nguyen: Giving you these names is a convention, but it’s also a pleasure and a privilege. I was reminded of this last month when I went home to visit my parents and told them that I was finishing an academic book about the Vietnam war and memory.

Viet Nguyen: Harvard University Press, March 2016, look out for that. They lived through four decades of war and sacrificed enormously for my family, our family. I wanted to dedicate this next book to them. The problem is that their names are said differently where we come from than they are said here. And in the United States, they’ve also adopted American names. So how should I dedicate the book to them?

Viet Nguyen: My father said not to use their names at all. “The war is complicated,” he said, “Why bring it back up?” Behind his reluctance was the belief that the passions and divisions of our war were still alive, and that fear was one of the reasons why I wrote the novel.

Viet Nguyen: Out of my sense that the past was not yet settled, I was born in a time of war. We are still at war. I came into memory as a refugee. We are still seeing refugees. Witnessing their faces on the news, we may long to know who they are. We turn to literature to imagine their names and feel sympathy, even empathy, for them and many others.

Viet Nguyen: But those feelings may say more about us than them since the reality of history is that not all names will be knowable. In the end, the two whose names I want to say the most, I cannot say at all. What I can say is that this book would have never been written and this award would not have been possible without my father and mother. I know their names and perhaps that’s enough. Thank you.

 

Category: News

 

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