Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Spotlight: Viet Thanh Nguyen

Adreon Patterson
3 min readMay 2, 2024

Academic and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen used his words to illuminate the immigrant experience. Nguyen began life in South Vietnam as the son of North Vietnamese parents. His life was uprooted at an early age when the Fall of Saigon forced the family to leave for the United States. His affinity for literature began when he looked into Vietnam’s history from a Vietnamese perspective. Learning about Vietnam pushed him to excel in storytelling and led him to attend UCLA and UC Riverside before receiving his BA in English and Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley.

Nguyen followed his undergraduate studies by receiving his Ph.D. from Berkeley. Soon after graduating, the writer took a teaching position at the University of Southern California for both the English and American Studies and Ethnicity departments. He would join Harvard University as the 2023 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry.

In addition to his academic work, the best-selling novelist began writing for various outlets. He wrote numerous short stories for literary journals, magazines, and newspapers. By 2015, Nguyen expanded his pen game by writing his first novel, The Sympathizer. The historical novel became a New York Times bestseller and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He followed his successful debut with its 2021 sequel, The Committed.

Nguyen even delved into non-fiction by penning Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, a National Book Award finalist. This book wasn’t his first foray into non-fiction, having written several articles and essays for numerous journals and publications. He edited the essay collection The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. The writer also authored two treatises addressing Asian American issues. He furthered his journalism career by becoming The Los Angeles Times ‘ cultural critic-at-large.

The novelist’s work continued by co-authoring his first children’s book, Chicken of the Sea. His work received recognition from the MacArthur Genius Grant and Guggenheim Fellowship. He currently serves as an op-ed columnist at The New York Times. Nguyen became the first Asian American elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board. He recently released his memoir A Man of Two Faces.

Viet Thanh Nguyen gave the Asian immigrant experience a necessary spotlight. Every writing field he jumps into allows him to be a voice for the marginalized. He enables others to express themselves through his words and advocacy. So, I say, “Mr. Nguyen, we thank you for using your experience to dissect our world.”

I became a writer because I believe in justice, and it becaomes an act of justice to tell the stories of those who have been erased.

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Originally published at on May 2, 2024.



Adreon Patterson

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