I am a fiction writer whose work thus far is preoccupied with the legacy of the Vietnam War for the Vietnamese who remained in the homeland, the Vietnamese who immigrated to America, and the Americans whose lives have intersected with both. I write with an awareness of American postcolonial narratives, particularly in the context of cultural identity.
My first novel, Dragonfish, concerns an American police officer’s search in Las Vegas for his ex-wife, a Vietnamese refugee whose letters to the daughter she abandoned decades ago comprises the book’s secondary narrative. The unraveling of her mysterious disappearance also reveals characters grappling with who they are in light of what they’ve lost: kin, country, love, morals. Dragonfish expands on similar themes from my short story collection, The Other Country, which presents contemporary Vietnamese characters negotiating a society shaped by centuries of war and occupation and the weighty obligations of family, religion, and dogma. As in my novel, my engagement here with historical trauma and diaspora entails a deeper investigation into questions of self-location. How does one reconcile one’s individuality with one’s cultural responsibilities? How does one locate a sense of “home” when one’s world is subject to constant change and conflict? How do the displaced go about replacing a world—an identity—that they’ve irrevocably lost?
As a creative writing teacher, my focus is broader and more craft-oriented. I offer a progressive range of fiction workshops designed to help students find their voice, cultivate their voice, and then challenge and expand their voice—all while carefully studying the work of peers and masters of the craft. Every winter, I also teach a Thesis/Major Works in Fiction workshop where I help students shape their work for the longer form they’ve chosen for their theses. My pedagogical approach is simple: to teach literature in terms of how it moves, intrigues, and challenges the reader, and to teach the craft of writing in terms of how one might do the same for one’s readers. With fiction students, I promote the idea that good writing is the absence of bad writing: those common mistakes in craft that all writers initially make and must prune from their work through constant, meticulous revision. Only by becoming good writers can we aspire to become great writers, an ideal I encourage by essentially offering students ways to organize and dramatize their complex humanity—to write, as William Faulkner said, about “the human heart in conflict with itself.”
2016-17 courses (all courses are taught through Creative Writing, CRWR): Autumn 2016, Advanced Fiction: Beginning a Novel (graduate & undergraduate). Winter 2017, Minor Portfolio Workshop in Fiction (graduate & undergraduate); Thesis/Major Projects in Fiction (graduate & undergraduate). Spring 2017, Advanced Fiction: Exploring Your Boundaries (graduate & undergraduate).
Undergraduate: Beginning Fiction: Why We Tell Stories; Intermediate Fiction: Finding Your Voice; Advanced Fiction: Exploring Your Boundaries; Advanced Fiction: The Importance of Plot; Thesis & Major Projects in Fiction.
Selected Publications in Fiction
- Dragonfish: A Novel. W.W. Norton: New York, 2015.
“The Gift of Years.” Fence. 9.1 (Winter/Spring 2006): 15-32.
- Reprinted in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007. Anchor Books, 2007
- Reprinted in A Best of Fence: The First Nine Years. Fence Books, 2009.
- Reprinted in American Odysseys: Writings by New Americans. The Vilcek Foundation Press, 2012.
- Reprinted in American Odysseys: Writings by New Americans. Dalkey Archive Press, 2013.
- “Kubla Khan.” Dead Neon: Tales of Near-Future Las Vegas. The University of Nevada Press, 2010.
- “Vespertine.” FiveChapters.com, January 18, 2009.
“This Or Any Desert.” Las Vegas Noir. Akashic Books: New York, 2008.
- Reprinted in The Best American Mystery Stories 2009. Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
- “Halong Bay: A Novella.” Interim. 26.1&2 (2008): 164-241.
- “The Other Country.” Harvard Review. 28 (2005): 8-23.
- "A Painted Face.” The Southern Review. 41.1 (Winter 2005): 23-43.
- “Vagaries.” Michigan Quarterly Review. 43.4 (Fall 2004): 545-570.
“Monsoon.” Glimmer Train Stories. 44 (Winter 2003): 31-49.
- Reprinted in Where Love Is Found. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
- “Solomon’s Dream.” The Antioch Review. 56.4 (Fall 1998): 403-419.
- “The Wedding.” Nimrod International Journal. 42.1 (Fall/Winter 1998): 81-100
PhD, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2006; MFA, University of Iowa, 2002
Teaching at Chicago since 2010.