Ocean Vuong has been named one of this year's MacArthur Fellows.
Vuong, 30, is a writer, poet, and assistant professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Vuong's writings include his 2019 debut novel, Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous; the 2016 poetry book Night Sky With Exit Wounds; and the chapbooks Burnings and No. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Pushcart Prize, and the Whiting Award for Poetry. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College, where he studied 19th-century English literature.
The MacArthur release described Vuong, who identifies as gay, as a "poet and fiction writer marrying folkloric traditions with linguistic experimentation in works that explore the effects of intergenerational trauma, the refugee experience, and the complexities of identity and desire with eloquence and clarity."
Vuong was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He and his family were forced to leave their home country due to their mixed-race ancestry, reports The Guardian; his grandfather was a U.S. soldier during the Vietnam War who fell in love with "an illiterate girl from the rice paddies," his grandmother. After their expulsion, he and his family lived in a refugee camp in the Philippines for a year before immigrating to Connecticut in 1990.
"Because of the precarious nature of my own history I don't like to be confined to any genre, given any label," Vuong told The Guardian. "Ultimately, we're all just writing sentences and telling stories."
The MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the "Genius Grant," is presented annually to about two to three dozen individuals in any field who show "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction." It is "a $625,000, no-strings-attached award" that is an "investment in their potential."
Listen to Vuong read the poem "Notebook Fragments," which explores his family's history, below.