Ocean Vuong, Poet and Fiction Writer | 2019 MacArthur Fellow - Lake Harding Association

Ocean Vuong, Poet and Fiction Writer | 2019 MacArthur Fellow

Ocean Vuong, Poet and Fiction Writer | 2019 MacArthur Fellow

By Micah Moen 0 Comment October 15, 2019


I use language and literature as a way
to orchestrate a framework, to think, and inquire about American life, including
the legacy of American violence. My name is Ocean Vuong, and I’m a poet and writer. I grew up surrounded by Vietnamese refugee women who used stories to create portals. The story is a virtual reality into another world, out of the present, but it’s also a record of where we’ve been, and a story is
an inheritance. “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” was a series of poems that attempts to cast a separate mythology out of geopolitical violence. And I used elders
and predecessors like Homer and a lot of the Greek classical texts and recast
them in the guise and the gaze of Vietnamese American life in the
aftermath of the Vietnam War. One of the central questions in “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” having been written as a letter to a mother who never will read it, is ultimately, does language matter? Is it worth it to speak your mind and your
truth in fiction, or otherwise, if an audience, even if it is an audience of
one, is never promised? Does it matter? Often we demand of the American novel to be cohesive, a monolithic statement of a generation. But having grown up post 9/11, cohesion was not part of my generation’s imagination, nor our language, or our
self-identity. And I felt that if I were to write my version of an American novel,
it would have to look more like fragmentation. In my Zen Buddhist
practice, one of the most privileged state of minds is not the expert, it’s
not the master, it’s what’s called the beginner’s mind. The beginner’s mind is a mind that approaches the natural world, and the
phenomenas within it, with utmost curiosity. And I think one of the most
perennial powers of an artistic mind is awe and wonder before the world.

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