On May 3rd, CLA presented Viet Thanh Nguyen, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction or his novel The Sympathizer. He read from his new novel, The Committed, which is the sequel to The Sympathizer. Viet’s reading illustrated the power of performance. He read energetically and rhythmically while addressing the audience. His words came to life and possessed three-dimensionality thanks to interspersed contextual commentary. Following Viet’s engaging reading, he engaged in a one-on-one discussion with Aimee Phan.
Aimee inquired about Viet’s intentions and journey with The Committed; specifically, asking if he had imagined a sequel for The Sympathizer. While he did not initially envision a sequel, Viet realized that the nameless narrator's journey was not finished with his journey. In thinking about a character who becomes disillusioned with Communism, Viet identified that a common trajectory for such an individual is relocating to America. To diverge this pattern, he situated the narrator in France. To go further, Viet also reflected on the narrator's masculine nature and thus the narrator must confront issues of his masculinity. What Viet Nguyen unveiled from this first question was the importance of character, socio-political, and personal examination when developing characters and the world(s) they inhabit.
The conversation then shifted into a discussion about the role of a writer who possesses a public platform: when do they pull away from their larger projects to address current issues? What events motivate them to speak out? For Viet, the type of writer he desires to be influences how he manages his platform.
“The writers that I really admired and the intellectuals I really admired, we committed writers, committed intellectuals. . . . Writers who saw themselves as writers in general. Not writers bound to a specific kind of genre . . . because their larger project was about how writing could be both beautiful as art but also transformative as politics as well. That was the kind of writer I aspired to be.”
Spending years as a writer of beauty and politics prepared him for his public platform, indicating that defining who one wishes to be as a writer, that subjective definition, impacts how an individual manages their platform.
Aimee Phan progressed the conversational thread further asking how social media contributes to the types of conversations writers engage in. Interestingly, Viet used social media platforms to try out opinions and receive audience responses and reactions, which then contributed to future opinion pieces. However, as this practice progressed, Viet realized how social media while offering opportunities to learn and be a powerful too could bring out the worst in him:
“The question for me, ‘was is it worth the trade-off: to have a public platform to influence people’s opinions to test out ideas, and yet also have these terrible impulses in me fed and cultivated?’ So, I deleted [Facebook and Twitter], and, honestly, I feel a whole lot better.”
Viet expressed that individuals have an individual choice, which is what The Committed is partly about:
“whatever structural or collected dilemmas and issues that we find ourselves in, we still have the capacity to make an individual choice to do something or not to do something.” - Nguyen
Funny, charismatic, and honest, Viet Thanh Nguyen is undoubtedly an author worth knowing through his works and other writings. CLA has been honored to have him as our guest. If you have yet to read his newest novel, we highly suggest that you buy a signed copy here. And just like that, CLA’s Spring 2022 Reading Series comes to a close. Stay tuned to learn about our 2022-2023 Reading Series line-up – trust us, you’re going to love it!