On Monday afternoon, the winners of the 2016 Pulitzer Prizes were announced, and Viet Thanh Nguyen, the author of The Sympathizer, took home the coveted Prize for Fiction. Who is Nguyen? Well, the author is actually a professor by day. In fact, he's worked as an associate professor of English and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California since 2003. He previously served as an assistant professor in the same department.
Notably, Nguyen is an immigrant. He was born in Vietnam, and came to the United States as a refugee with his family in 1975. According to his personal website, they initially settled in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, one of four camps for Vietnamese refugees in the United States. They lived in Pennsylvania until the late '70s, but later moved to San Jose, California, where they opened one of the first Vietnamese grocery stores in the area.
He graduated with honors from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in English and Ethnic Studies. He later pursued his PhD at the same institution, graduating with a doctorate in English in 1997. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to teach at USC. In addition to teaching and writing, he also serves as cultural critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times and editor of diaCRITICS, a blog for the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network.
Nguyen has penned academic books and works of short fiction in the past, but The Sympathizer is his first novel. The novel won the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize in 2015, as well as the Carnegie Medal for Excellence In Fiction from the American Library Association and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Libraries Association. It is a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.
The Sympathizer is "the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties." The novel follows a double agent in 1975 Vietnam, and later in Los Angeles. It's billed as a spy novel, an "astute exploration of extreme politics," and a love story all rolled into one. This is definitely the novel everyone will be reading over the coming weeks, so add it to your TBR list now. Plus, stay tuned for more from this acclaimed author. His newest book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, is a comprehensive look at the war which Americans call the Vietnam War, and which the Vietnamese call the American War.
Images: Viet Thanh Nguyen/Facebook