Past Event

Fiction Beyond Language: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and Vietnamese Diasporic Memory

April 22, 2022
10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Event time is displayed in your time zone.
Zoom Webinar

Watch the recorded event here


Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, author of The Mountains Sing
Marie Myung-ok Lee, CSER, Columbia University
Yen Vu, EALAC/WEAI, Columbia University
John Phan, EALAC/WEAI, Columbia University


John Phan, EALAC/WEAI, Columbia University

Engagement with contemporary artists, authors, and other public figures is key to understanding East Asian society and culture. Dr. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai represents one of the most celebrated new Vietnamese authors today, whose work is gaining enormous recognition for her successful translation of Vietnamese literary aesthetics, philosophy, and experience into the English language. This event is a rare opportunity to discuss her award-winning novel, The Mountains Sing, as well as her unique perspective as a cosmopolitan Vietnamese writer and journalist, working in multiple languages, and in multiple societies. She represents a new, transnational kind of intellectual, one that reflects an increasingly global East Asia. We believe that this event will be of immense value for all scholars of modern East Asia, as well as scholars of East Asian diasporic communities, Vietnamese literature, culture, and history.

Dr. Nguyễn’s work will be then discussed in a casual format by Marie Myung-Ok Lee (CSER) and Yến Vũ (Weatherhead East Asian Institute & EALAC). Drs. Lee and Vũ are uniquely situated to discuss the significance of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s work. Dr. Lee is an expert in Asian American literature, as well as a celebrated author focusing on the Korean American experience in her own right, while Dr. Vũ focuses on diasporic Vietnamese literature in her own research. The event will be facilitated by Dr. John Phan.

The Mountains Sing won the 2021 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, the 2021 International Book Award for Literary Fiction and Multicultural Fiction, the 2021 Annie Ward, 2020 BookBrowse Best Debut Award, and the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship, among many other recognitions. It has been reviewed in luminous terms by the New York Times, and was chosen as both a New York Times Editors’ Choice as well as Best Book of the Month/Year by the New York Times, Washington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, USA Today, and a number of other prominent publications. The book spans almost the entirety of modern Vietnamese history, stretching from the end of French Colonialism, through civil war between North and South Vietnam, on into the present day.

Dr. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s novel has received special recognition for capturing an essential Vietnamese voice and cultural experience, while at the same time being written originally in English. Her novel represents a unique example of a work that is written not as a translation of culture or experience for western anglophone readers, but as a work written by and for a linguistically complex, diasporic community, and one that defies the constraints of national language in a way that mirrors and expresses the diasporic experience.

Born into the Red Delta of Northern Việt Nam, Dr. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up in the Mekong Delta, Southern Việt Nam. She has published twelve books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese and English and has translated seven books. Her latest work, THE MOUNTAINS SING, is an International Bestseller, winner of six literary awards in the US and the UK including the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship for "a work of exceptional quality" and for "contribution to peace and reconciliation". Quế Mai’s second novel in English, Dust Child, is forthcoming with Algonquin Books in March 2023. For more information, visit:

This event is sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.

Contact Information

Julie Kwan