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Race in America: History & Memory with Viet Thanh Nguyen

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen joins Washington Post Live on Monday, March 15 (Video: The Washington Post)

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s debut novel, “The Sympathizer,” about a communist double agent after the Vietnam War, won a Pulitzer Prize among many other accolades. On Monday, March 15 at 2:00pm ET, Washington Post senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan spoke with Nguyen about his new book, “The Committed,” how history and memory have shaped his life and writing, and how he sees the rising attacks against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here for a transcript.


Author Viet Thanh Nguyen says the idea of an immigrant or refugee feeling like a “spy” is a common experience. “I took the seed of that feeling of constantly feeling like a spy, of being displaced or out of place, of being an observer. And I put it into this figure of The Sympathizer who is of mixed race descent always feeling out of place, but his life is much more dramatic than mine.” (Video: Washington Post Live)
Author Viet Thanh Nguyen says the history of discrimination against Asian Americans gives context to the rise in attacks happening today. “None of this is new…On one hand that’s very discouraging, on the other hand it allows us to put what’s happening today in a context and to acknowledge these short-term solutions are not the answer here.” (Video: Washington Post Live)
As a child, author Viet Thanh Nguyen was temporarily separated from his family at a refugee camp. He says policies that separate families at the southern U.S. border are “wrong” and “emotionally devastating." “I try to suppress those feelings, I think they always remain with me, stamped between my shoulders as an invisible brand…My experience was benevolent, I’ve never forgotten it, so I just can’t imagine how traumatic it is for these parents and these children to be forcibly separated for such long periods.“ (Video: Washington Post Live)

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. He is the author of The Sympathizer , which was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction alongside six other prizes. He is also the author of the short story collection The Refugees, the nonfiction book Nothing Ever Dies, a finalist for the National Book Award, and is the editor of an anthology of refugee writing, The Displaced. He is the Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations. This year he became the first Asian-American member of the Pulitzer Board. He lives in Los Angeles.