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Ocean Vuong

Associate Professor

photo of Ocean Vuong

Personal Website

South College

Ocean Vuong is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 31 languages. A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur "Genius" Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.

Vuong's writings have been featured in The AtlanticHarpersThe NationNew RepublicThe New YorkerThe New York TimesThe Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, alongside Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon and Angela Merkel, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen VogueInterviewPoets & Writers, and The New Yorker.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Research Areas

Contemporary and 20th Century Poetry
Global Literary Theory
19th Century American Literature
Asian American/Diasporic Studies
Queer/LGBTQ Literature
Hybrid/Intergenre Poetries 
Nonfiction and the Personal Essay

Courses Recently Taught

A Myriad Consciousness: the hybrid, its tradition, innovations and radical possibilities

In this class, we will examine possibilities in textual and formal hybridity, paying close attention to how this nascent yet rich lineage of writing blurs, disrupts, and alters the boundaries of genre-making. What happens when a piece of writing challenges the preconceived parameters of its genre, rendering itself elusive, amorphous, and yet still insisting on its value as a means of intellectual and emotional discovery? What uses are genre labels, and can these terms be modified alongside the development of inter-genre futures?

How does a poet's own hybridity in epistemology, culture, class, race, gender and sexuality relate to or inform her formal enactments? We will read both the trailblazers and newcomers to the form, as well as try our own hand at creating a hybrid text that surprises, challenges, and confronts our own notions of what a "poem" should or should not be, and how those notions can change. The goal, in the end, is to expand and enlarge our ontological knowledge of "genre" and the potentialities therein through careful reading, compositional imitation, and rigorous discussion. Writers explored might include Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Bhanu Kapil, Marguerite Duras, Etel Adnan, Sam Ace, Joe Brainard, William Carlos Williams, Matsuo Bashō, Arthur Rimbaud, Aimé Césaire, Jean Toomer, Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson,Lyn Hejinian, Ben Lerner, Bernadette Mayer, Fred Moten, Cathy Park Hong, C.S Giscombe, Chen Chen, Ilya Kaminsky, C.D. Wright, among others.

Broken Bootstraps: how class, labor, and poverty inform lasting innovative traditions in Modern Poetics

“Storytelling,” writes Walter Benjamin, “as it has long flourished in the world of manual labor—rural, maritime, then urban—is itself a form of artisanal labor…The storyteller’s traces cling to a story the way traces of the potter’s hand cling to a clay bowl.”

Benjamin goes on to demarcate class lines between storytelling—in the oral and epic poetry traditions—and the book, whose flourishing he credits to the middle class. Indeed, despite the early promise of the printing press to democratize reading and access to books, the cost, in both production and time, has historically limited the determination of literary values to the upper middle class, often leaving working class concerns outside of canonical hegemony. However, as we will explore in this course, writers of working class backgrounds (from the 19th century to the present) have continued to experiment, even play (with pleasure, surprise and joy), around and through these constrictions, producing a vanguard of formal, theoretical, and critical contributions that have culminated in a wealth of textual innovations rooted in alterity.

More so, we will examine, question and explore how labor, race, access and economic disparities inform how these poets build lasting praxi that are capacious to these concerns as well as that of their respective communities. The writers explored will be defined as those coming from, practicing in, or writing on working class issues, although these definitions will likely change as the class develops. Writers might include: Walter Benjamin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sarah Ahmed, Cynthia Cruz, Eduardo C. Corral, C.S Giscombe, Reginald Shepherd, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton, CA Conrad, Mark Nowak, Janet Zandy, Yusef Komunyakaa, Somlaz Sharif, Amiri Baraka, Denis Johnson, Li-Young Lee, Kim Hyesoon, Jericho Brown, Ai, Arthur Rimbuad, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Robert Hayden, John Wieners.

Imaginative Writing: Poetry — Praxis, Place, and Origin

This weekly studio workshop is built around developing (via deep, slow, and rigorous close reading) the art and act of recognition in relation to the reading and writing of verse. We will expand and nurture a lexicon for examining, complicating, and thinking about how poems work and thrive, not only as crafted objects, but also in relation to the contexts they seek to explore and the questions and issues they raise. Our main task is to learn how to recognize a poem’s unique goals and ambitions, and then cater our critique according to those objectives, becoming both better readers and writers en route. In this way, there are no overarching rules that can apply to any specific poem, but rather, each piece will receive idiosyncratic responses in relation to its aspirations.

Additionally, this class places heavy emphasis on the development of your practice and methods as an artist, which will help lay the vital foundation for a long, sustained, and enriching life of writing and thinking that hopefully extends far beyond the MFA.