Ocean Vuong

American writer

Ocean Vuong (born Vương Quốc Vinh; October 14, 1988) is a Vietnamese American writer, poet and essayist.


  • The stories, at first, were folklore. My grandmother would tell a ghost story, then she would say: oh, that was after the napalm. So through cycles of these stories, that world started opening and as a child I would ask: what’s napalm? They ploughed on. It was almost intoxicating for them to create a mythology of their lives, because they were so powerless. They were all women. The men were gone; they did their harm and were gone. And they were empty hands, had no English, were powerless everywhere else. But when it was time to tell the story, they held everything.
  • I think that might not have been enough, were it not for me being my family ’s only hope. Because they were also dying, in a different way: financially, mentally. And I thought, I can’t die. Literally I can’t die.
  • The incredible thing that I can never quite understand was how they were able to kick them all out. The men had access to jobs, money, a patriarchal presence in the world, and even though they had troubles too, as immigrants and refugees, we come from a patriarchal tradition in the old country just as deeply rooted as in the west. In some cases, when men are talking to each other, women aren’t supposed to even be in the room. So that was what they were coming out of. And to think divorce?! These things were still taboo where they came from. And they all really did it.
  • The great male writers of the European tradition, be it Proust, Tolstoy, Turgenev, deemed that those most inspiring to them existed in a white aristocracy…You read those books and you wouldn’t even know that people of colour existed in Europe. To each his own, and that was their choice. But I wanted to say: these lives, of women, and even of poor white people – these lives are worthy of literature. As Turgenev looked at the crumbling Russian empire, I look at these folks in a different crumbling empire and deemed that these are inspiring lives to an artist.
  • This book is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-of-art. I would say that I begin with the voices of those I care for, family or otherwise, and follow them until they drop off, until I have to create them in order to hear them. My writing is an echo. In this way, On Earth is not so much a novel, but the ghost of a novel. That’s the hope anyway.
  • The novel insists that there is power, and with it, agency, in survival—which includes the interracial tensions you speak of—because trauma is still an integral reality for queer folks. But these bodies do know joy, and they know it by acknowledging and honoring the tribulations they outlived. We often think of survival as something that merely happens to us, that we are perhaps lucky to have. But I like to think of survival as a result of active self-knowledge, and even more so, a creative force.

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