Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Viet Thanh Nguyen to Give Annual Troy Lecture at UMass Amherst

Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen

AMHERST, Mass. – Acclaimed author Viet Thanh Nguyen will present the annual Troy Lecture on the Humanities and Public Life on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 4:30 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He will speak on “War, Fiction, and the Ethics of Memory.”

Recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel “The Sympathizer,” Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and professor of English, American studies and ethnicity, and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. He is also a 2017 MacArthur fellow and Guggenheim fellow.

Nguyen’s 2016 book, “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War,” was a finalist for the National Book Award in non-fiction. Nguyen is also the author of “Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America as well as “The Refugees,” a best-selling recent collection of short stories. Nguyen also writes for the New York TimesTimethe GuardianThe Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times, where he is a critic at large.

Nguyen was born in Ban Me Thuot, Vietnam, in 1971, a critical point in the Vietnam War. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Nguyen and his family came to the United States and settled in a camp for Vietnamese refugees in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. During this time, Nguyen was taken from his parents and sent to live with a white sponsor family until 1978 when the Nguyen family moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In search for better economic opportunities, the family later moved to San Jose, California, and opened a Vietnamese grocery store, one of the first in the city. After graduating from high school, Nguyen attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he went on to earn his Ph.D. in English, and then accepted a teaching position at the University of Southern California. He has been at USC ever since.

Randall Knoper, chair of the UMass Amherst English department, said, “Professor Nguyen’s fiction and nonfiction are especially timely in helping us rethink blind spots in debates around wars and the refugees left in their wake, not least in the case of the Vietnam War and its lasting significance. As he argues in a recent New York Times essay, ignorance about the Vietnam War ‘continues today, both in terms of what Americans continue to ignore about Vietnam and what Americans refuse to know about the Middle East.’ Such considerations, moreover, prompt a rethinking of American identity.”

Nguyen wrote in another recent essay, “I am a refugee, an American, and a human being, which is important to proclaim, as there are many who think these identities cannot be reconciled.”

Presented by the UMass Amherst English department, the Troy Lecture honors Frederick S. (Barney) Troy, who was a professor of English, an honorary professor at the university and a university trustee.

Previous Troy lecturers include Nadine Gordimer, Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Judith Butler, J.M. Coetzee, Seamus Heaney, Salman Rushdie, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, and Wole Soyinka.