Ocean Vuong, Writer

Ocean Vuong Black & White Portrait by Tim Hines

Ocean Vuong, Writer

In Conversation with Cathy Park Hong
Avenali Lecture
Thursday, Apr 4, 2024 5:00 pm

Poet and novelist Ocean Vuong is the 2023-24 Avenali Chair in the Humanities. 

Vuong is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), which was named one of the top ten books of 2019 by the Washington Post and has been translated into 37 languages. Vuong has also published two collections of poetry: Time is a Mother (2022) and Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016), which won the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His other honors include a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, a Pushcart Prize, and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, Granta, Harper's, the Nation, the New Republic, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Paris Review.

Born in Saigon, Vuong came to the United States as a refugee with his family at the age of two and was raised in Hartford, Connecticut in a working-class family of nail salon and factory laborers. He attended Manchester Community College before transferring to Pace University to study international marketing. Without completing his first term, he dropped out and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a BA in English. The novelist and poet Ben Lerner, Vuong's teacher at Brooklyn College, has said of him, "once in a while, you get a student who’s not testing to be a writer, but who is already one." Vuong went on to earn his MFA in poetry at New York University, where he now serves on the faculty as professor of creative writing.

With its award of a 2019 fellowship, the MacArthur Foundation described Vuong as "a poet and fiction writer whose works explore the ongoing trauma of war and conditions of exile with tragic eloquence and clarity. [...] Vuong is a vital new literary voice demonstrating mastery of multiple poetic registers while addressing the effects of intergenerational trauma, the refugee experience, and the complexities of identity and desire."

For the Avenali Lecture, Vuong is in conversation with writer and Berkeley faculty member Cathy Park Hong (English), whose New York Times bestselling book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography, and earned its author recognition on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list. Hong is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire; Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Translating Mo'um. She is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.