Poetry News

Saigoneer Celebrates Hoa Nguyen's Recent Visit to Vietnam

By Harriet Staff

Saigoneer introduces local readers and poetry fans to Hoa Nguyen, who recently visited Vietnam for a series of readings and poetry workshops. In his article "A Vietnamese-American Poet's First Return to Vietnam After Half a Century," Paul Christiansen writes: "This young year saw the acclaimed Vietnamese-American writer return to Vietnam for the first time in nearly half a century. Surrounded by local writers and fans, she was able to celebrate her homecoming with a candlelit reading on a balcony overlooking Hanoi’s West Lake." Let's pick up there: 

Coming back to Vietnam was a “lifelong dream” for Nguyen. She grew up in the Washington DC area but was born in Vinh Long Province. Before giving birth to her, Nguyen’s mother, Diep, motivated by a rebellious spirit and a difficult family life, fled her small village and joined the circus at age 15. After putting in time doing menial tasks for the outfit, she became a stunt motorbike rider in a famous all-female troupe—barreling perpendicular to the ground at breakneck speeds inside large domes without so much as a helmet or pads. On one occasion she even performed for President Ngo Dinh Diem. She crashed in front of him, but ignoring her tattered uniform and bloodied body, she steadied herself and got back on her bike to finish the performance.

Following her stint in the circus and as the war escalated, Nguyen’s mother met the future writer's biological father, an American man working in Vietnam. The two briefly ran a restaurant together but he left them and the country before Nguyen was even born. Following the Tet Offensive in 1968, when Nguyen was less than two years old, she and her mother fled to America with her mother’s new husband, an American State Department worker. As Diep assimilated into a land devoid of phở, cyclos, or towering dipterocarp trees, she quickly shed her Vietnamese and any interest in sharing stories from a painful past. Nguyen’s native language, which she was only just beginning to verbalize, also slipped away.

Read more at Saigoneer.

Originally Published: March 2nd, 2018