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10 Questions for Diana Khoi Nguyen

There you stood, eye to the photograph looking at the
place you’re in without you. Am I feeling elegiac
or algebraic again. A violence from within protects
from a violence without.
—from “On Memorial”, Winter 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 4)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I’m not sure if this question is referring to first piece of all time—but I’ll respond as if it were. Third grade—a poem about clouds, while I sat in the middle of the soccer field. There were dandelions beneath my hands when they grazed the earth, and the sun seemed softer than it does these days.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
An inexhaustive list: Susan Howe, Anne Carson, Yoko Tawada, Clarice Lispector, Harold Pinter, Eliot Weinberger.

What other professions have you worked in?
Tech/Business. I worked in operations for Apple just after the launch of the first iPhone, and currently teach a communication class I created at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

What inspired you to write this piece?
Unfortunately, the suicide of my twenty-four-year-old brother.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
The afterlife, and/or where my deceased brother is now—Saigon, Cassis, the Los Angeles of my childhood, the mountainous terrains of my present home in Colorado.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Absolutely: most prominently: the works of Max Richter. My first book, Ghost Of, was composed listening nonstop to Richter (in particular: his Vivaldi, The Leftovers scores, The Blue Notebooks).

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I do: I only write in biannual fifteen poem-a-day marathons, so thirty days a year. It’s intense, and I usually spend the weeks/months beforehand preparing by compiling reading lists on various threads/topics, as well as immersing my imagination in various Criterion Collection films. The limited, pressurized timeframe helps me escape myself, as much as I can escape myself. It’s terrible, and also wonderful—Ghost Of was written in August and December 2016.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
A small circle of literary-artist confidantes who suffer with me during our grueling biannual 15-day writing marathons: E.C. Belli, Chet’la Sebree, Lilly Lam, Eric Raymond.

What are you working on currently?
Finishing up my dissertation for a PhD in creative writing—which is multi-modal in nature: plays, video work, audio work, installations, meandering essays, and of course, poems. The heart of the work is an investigation into various Vietnamese American narratives and experiences of former Vietnamese refugees and their children. I’m interested in the Vietnamese diaspora and tales of exodus, resilience, adaptation, assimilation (or lack thereof).

What are you reading right now?
I’m a serial dabbler of multiple texts in simultaneity, but I’ll mention two: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee and the play, We’re Gonna Die by Young Jean Lee.

DIANA KHOI NGUYEN'S debut collection, Ghost Of, was selected by Terrance Hayes for the Omnidawn Open Contest. In addition to winning the 92Y “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Contest, she is pursuing a PhD in creative writing at the University of Denver.

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