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Vietnamese Immigrant's First Novel Wins Pulitzer Prize


Writer Viet Thanh Nguyen has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his first novel 'The Sympathizer.'

Writer Viet Thanh Nguyen has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his first novel 'The Sympathizer.'

A first-time novelist, Viet Thanh Nguyen, has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He won the prize for his book, “The Sympathizer.” The Pulitzer judges described Nguyen’s book as an immigrant’s story told through the voice of “a man of two minds, and two countries…”

The book is set in both Vietnam, where the author was born, and the United States, where he was raised.

Critics have praised “The Sympathizer” as an exciting spy story with emotional depth and humor. It tells about a group of South Vietnamese army officers who escape to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War. Among them is a captain who is secretly loyal to the Viet Cong. He reports to Viet Cong officials about the group and their lives in Los Angeles.

Nguyen told the Los Angeles Times that “The Sympathizer” is a “confession from one Vietnamese to another.”

Nguyen came to the United States with his family in 1975 when he was very young. They lived for several years in a refugee camp in Pennsylvania. They settled in San Jose, California. Nguyen studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate in English.

Nguyen is now a professor of English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He has published three non-fiction books and some short stories.

The writer told the L.A. Times that it was important to him when the writers Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri won Pulitzers. He called their wins landmarks for writers of color and Asian-American writers. Nguyen said Morrison’s work influenced his choice to write for, in his words, “people who are intimate to me, and not to think that I was writing for a white audience first."

He told the University of Southern California News, “I see myself as part of a larger movement of writers of color, of Asian-American writers who have collectively been trying so hard to bring different voices and perspectives to American audiences and have often felt overlooked or marginalized in different ways.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen is not the first person to win a Pulitzer for a first novel. But, it is a rare event.

The Associated Press won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for public service for its reporting on abuse in the Southeast Asian seafood industry. AP reporters investigated the mistreatment of workers in Southeast Asia who helped supply seafood to American supermarkets and restaurants. The reporting helped free 2,000 slave laborers.

Other 2016 Pulitzer winners include the poetry prize for “Ozone Journal” by Peter Balakian and the drama prize for the musical “Hamilton.”

This is the 100th yearly awarding of the Pulitzer prizes. Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer established them in 1917. Columbia University in New York City awards the prizes.

I’m Caty Weaver.

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Words in this Story

novelist - n. a writer of a fiction book

fiction - n. written stories about people and events that are not real​

confession - n. the act of telling people something that makes you embarrassed, ashamed, etc.​

intimate - adj. very closely related or connected : very close​

perspective - n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)​

marginalize - v. to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group​

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