Vu Tran

Vu Tran
Associate Professor of Practice in the Arts
Taft House 302
PhD, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2006; MFA, University of Iowa, 2002
Teaching at UChicago since 2010


I am a novelist and short story writer. My fiction primarily concerns the Vietnamese diaspora in America and the ongoing and inherited effects of displacement—specifically its muddling of memory and the self, of domestic and interracial bonds, of the Vietnamese as well as American identity. My recent work recasts these immigrant stories of rootlessness in the deeply rooted narrative structures of Western genre fiction—in part, a tension that mirrors the struggles of the characters and heightens what is at once familiar, strange, and liminal in their experience of America. 


My first novel, Dragonfish—a NY Times Notable Book—is a literary noir that follows a white police officer’s search in Las Vegas for his ex-wife, a troubled Vietnamese woman who escaped their marriage, has now vanished from an abusive new husband, and is secretly writing letters to the daughter she abandoned two decades ago, when they first came to the US as refugees from Vietnam. In my novel-in-progress, Your Origins—which draws on the tropes of the gothic romance—a failed writer recounts the three mysteries of his life: the circumstances that left him orphaned during the war in Vietnam; the uncommunicative white nurse who becomes his mother and raises him in Oklahoma; and following her sudden death, the young half-Vietnamese widow he meets after college, whose story of recent tragedy echoes his own and tells of a place where one can glimpse the life they might have lived had tragedy never befallen them. 

My fiction has also appeared in publications like the O. Henry Prize Stories and the Best American Mystery Stories, and along with the Whiting Award, I’ve received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, MacDowell, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and other organizations. 

As a teacher, I design my courses around the mechanics, history, aesthetics, and politics of fiction writing and how the effective application of each must involve a constant and deep interrogation of oneself. I work with both undergraduate and graduate students and have advised novels, story collections, novellas, even online narratives with graphic and hyperlink components. My students also engage in a variety of genres: literary fiction, young adult, speculative fiction, fantasy, magic realism. I ask them only to write what they most want to read, and to recognize that “good writing” transcends genre and can move, intrigue, and challenge any thoughtful reader.

Selected Publications

  • “Origins,” Ploughshares, Summer 2019. 
  • “Under the Murakami Spell,” Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2019. 
  • “War and Peace and Nostalgia,” Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2018. 
  • "A Refugee Again.” Displaced: Essays on Refugees. New York: Abrams Books, 2018. 
  • Dragonfish: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015. 
  • “The Gift of Years.” The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007. New York: Anchor Books, 2007. 
  •  “This Or Any Desert.” The Best American Mystery Stories 2009. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.

Selected Teaching

  • Big Problems: Narrating Migration 
  • Arts Core: From Page to Film 
  • Advanced Fiction Workshop: The Love Story 
  • Advanced Fiction Workshop: Exploring Your Boundaries 
  • Technical Seminar in Fiction: Scenes & Seeing 
  • Technical Seminar in Fiction: The Mechanics & Aesthetics of Plot 
  • Fundamentals in Creative Writing: What Is Character?