An intimate interview with three Pacific Northwest Vietnamese writers.
– Juliet Dang
How long have you been professionally writing for?
Vi: Since 2005, about 13 years.
Stacey: I’m not sure I would consider myself a professional.
I’ve been writing since I was 11.
Dao: For a long time, I was always more comfortable just saying “I write” than calling myself a writer. I’ve written ever since I was a child, and I published my first short story when I was 22, my first novel the year I turned 30. So, 20+ years of endeavoring to write and feeling “professional” about it some years more than others.
Was your family supportive of your career decision?
Vi: No, my mom wants me to be a plastic surgeon and my dad wants me to be not green, face wise, and healthy.
Stacey: My parents wanted me to devote my life to something I’m passionate about. I feel very fortunate for that, because I didn’t experience pressures from them to study a certain subject and pursue a certain career track. I meant to pursue journalism in college, but that changed quickly to poetry when I realized community is so important, and I recognized myself in a community among poets.
Dao: My mother was a journalist in her early years, so to some degree yes my family was supportive. But they also still would’ve liked to see my life be more stable, practical, etc. Writing is not a stable or lucrative vocation. I think my tolerance for uncertainty and risk-taking -career-wise (i.e. all those years of quiet working and little outwardly visible success or achievements) – could at times be a source of worry for my parents.
What lessons have you learned that you would like to share to other Vietnamese writers new in their careers?
Vi: Don’t become a writer. And, if you must write, eat fish sauce in front of and behind white people.
Stacey: I like Vi’s advice. I have somehow followed this advice intuitively accidentally. My advice is to always take Vi’s advice.
Dao: I think this is another way of saying: be strong culturally and personally, if you want to be a writer, and have moxie about not conforming the white and racist structures you’ll surely somehow or another encounter.
What are the main themes within your pieces?
Vi: Sex, death, orgies, immigration, fish sauce.
Stacey: Food, family history, romantic love, childhood memories, ancient futures.
Dao: Displacement, ethos, longing, perception, esoteric and feminine perceptions.
Stacey Tran is a writer from Portland, OR. She is the creator of Tender Table, a storytelling series about food, family, identity. Her writing can be found in BOMBMagazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and diaCRITICS. She is theauthor of Soap for the Dogs (Gramma,2018).
Dao Strom is the author of two books of fiction and a memoir We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People +music album East/West (2015). Her latest work is a bilingual poetry/art book, You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else, published by the Hanoi-based AJAR Press (2018). Her work has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Capital Foundation, among others. She is the editor of diaCRITICS.
Vi Khi Nao is the author of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018) and Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University, where she received the John Hawkes and Feldman Prizes in fiction and the Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Award in poetry.
Juliet Dang is —