Some of the most talented literary masterminds will gather at the Skirball Cultural Center on Wednesday for a night of storytelling and reflection. Hosted by the prestigious National Book Foundation, “An Evening with the National Book Awards” provides an intimate space for readers to speak to some of today’s most popular authors. The event will consist of a panel with author and USC professor Viet Thanh Nguyen, poet Robin Coste Lewis and fiction author Karan Mahajan.
Nguyen is a professor of English and American studies and ethnicity at USC. His book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, was one of five finalists nominated for the 2016 National Book Awards in the nonfiction category.
“I wanted to write stories that would contest the American stories of the Vietnam War,” Nguyen said, in a previous interview with Daily Trojan. “We as Vietnamese refugees are people considered [to those in Vietnam] as traitors, losers, dissidents. It’s a struggle to make our presence and our memory heard and felt.”
Nguyen’s first and best-selling novel The Sympathizer won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015. Since then, he has continued to pursue his passion as a writer and storyteller. His other works include Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America and a collection of short stories titled The Refugees.
“It took me 18 years of struggle and pain of writing constantly and continually, of experiencing rejection and obscurity before I got to write The Sympathizer in two years,” Nguyen said. “What I’ve learned is that in terms of writing, it’s the art, the discipline that matters.”
Robin Coste Lewis will also speak on the panel about writing and authorship in the modern era. A Ph.D. candidate in creative writing and literature at USC, Lewis is an award-winning poet whose passion and talent have not gone unnoticed. Her work, Voyage of the Sable Venus, won the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry — the first poetry debut to receive the honor since 1974.
“I wanted the poem both to talk about the history of visual culture (race, gender, power) while also performing the history of poetic forms in English, simultaneously,” Lewis said in an interview with Literary Hub. “To perform poetic history over time, formally, on the page, while using the language itself to discuss the visual culture that flourished aside that poetic tradition.”
Lewis’ long poem attempts to redefine what beauty is, while also retelling historical events. Her poetry is deeply spiritual and reflective of her background studying comparative religious literature at Harvard University,
The final author, Karan Mahajan, is an Indian American fiction writer who writes about the aftermath of a terrorist attack in New Delhi, following the stories of people who grapple with loss, strength and fear.
“Extreme emotions exert an enormous pull on characters and the writer; it is possible to accidentally exalt them or veer into melodrama. What I wanted to do was normalize states of extremity — to show that, despite their horror, these are human states,” Mahajan said in an interview with the National Book Foundation. “Realizing that there was an intricate link between terrorists and victims—or at least the mentality of victimhood — was a way in.”
These authors all carry an innate talent for storytelling, as reflected in their nominations for the the National Book Awards.
Tickets are available on the Skirball Center website. The event will take place from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday.
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