22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Ocean Vuong

Portrait Ocean Vuong
© Hartwig Klappert

The American poet and essayist Ocean Vuong was born as Vinh Quoc Vuong in Ho Chi Minh City in 1988. In 1990, he emigrated with his family to Hartford, Connecticut, USA, after spending a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines. In his family, which has a history of dyslexia, at the age of eleven he was the first to learn how to read. Vuong has said that he was brought up mainly by women. He received his first name, »Ocean«, from his mother as an homage to the sea that connects the United States and Vietnam. Vuong studied 19th-century English literature at Brooklyn College in New York.
His first publication of poems »Over The Rainbow« (2010) was included by the American Library Association in a selection of noteworthy LGBTQ books. The volume »No« (2013) followed three years later. The collection »Night Sky with Exit Wounds« (2016) has been published in two editions and has received several awards. Vuong’s poems, in which he writes about violence and war, family relationships, and sexuality, reflect the perspective of an immigrant and homosexual and allow the reader to feel what it means to be an outsider. With clear photographic precision, strong emotionality and a sharpened view of the transience of life, Vuong intensively captures individual moments. The sea – »Ocean« – becomes a metaphor for transience and rebirth. »As for this book, it beautifully attests to Mr. Vuong’s own ability to use the magic of words to summon and preserve the past« (»The New York Times«). Voung’s first novel »On Earth Weʼre Briefly Gorgeous« (2019), whose title he took from his own poem from 2014, is a letter from a son to his mother, who cannot read. It tells of his family’s roots in Vietnam up to the time before his birth. At the same time, the story focuses on the relationship between the single mother and her son, asking questions about origin, class affiliation, and masculinity. However, it is above all about the ability to tell one’s own story and the need for it to be heard.
Voung has received numerous awards for his literary work, including the Pushcart Prize (2014), the Elizabeth George Foundation Fellowship (2013), the Whiting Award for Poetry (2016), and the T. S. Eliot Prize (2017). His poems and essays have been published in »Poetry«, »Guernica«, and »The New York Times«, among others. He currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is an assistant in the MFA for Poets and Writers program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.