Author Nam Le Shared Writing Wisdom in Palm Court

Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le held a talk at Loyola March 18, co-sponsored by the Department of English alongside the Honors Program and the Center for Research and International Affairs.

In 2008, Nam Le published his debut short story collection “The Boat.” 

In the 16 years that followed, the short story collection has been republished as a Penguin Modern Classic. 

Le, who added a special stop at Loyola in the middle of his national book tour, presented passages from “The Boat” and his new anthology of poems “36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem” in Palm Court March 18. 

The Vietnamese-born Australian writer split the event into two segments, a reading followed by a Q&A. The event, organized by Assistant Professor Nami Mun, was co-sponsored by the Department of English alongside the Honors Program and the Center for Research and International Affairs. 

Mun, who teaches creative writing, estimated 150 people attended the event. An introduction by fourth-year English major Jonathan Kim preceded the author.

Kim read a passage of a short story titled “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” from Le’s first book “The Boat.”

“These few lines have done much for my experience as an aspiring author,” Kim said. “They have given me the confidence to center my writing in little moments, to take pride in them.” 

For the first segment, Le read a passage from his short story collection followed by selections from his newest release, a poetry book titled “36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem.” 

After the reading, Le started a Q&A conversation with the audience. 

Prompted by a question about the relationship between the writer and their characters, Le said even though the character uses his name and circumstance, the goal was to create a “metapoint” about assumptions and expectations. The author said 15 years ago when he would talk about the story, he was extremely aware of the synthesizing between character and writer. Now, he feels distant from the characters.  

Referencing the international settings of Le’s first book, an audience member asked if the title of his poetry anthology made it exclusive to the Vietnamese experience. 

“It’s a book to other Vietnamese writers, to other writers of color, to other writers of not color, to other readers of everything and to myself,” Le said. 

After the event, Le told The Phoenix that being able to speak to people studying his writing is a lesson in humility. He said knowing there are people engaging with his work is a privilege.  

Le said the event was entirely the effort of “the exuberant and inimitable Nami Mun.”

“Honestly, when Nami put this forward as a possibility, I jumped on it straight away,” Le said. “I can’t imagine a better audience than students who have been studying your writing.” 

Mun said Le is currently on a national book tour, so she quickly called his publicity team to “beg” them to let him stay another day. 

“With his generosity — and his publicity team making a little more space in his tour — we were lucky enough to get him here,” Mun said. 

According to Mun, there hasn’t been an award-winning author of Le’s fame invited to the university in a long time. Mun said the three co-sponsors indicated to her that people outside of the English department would be interested in the event. 

Mun said the attendees included local reading groups, writers and professors — from Loyola and other Chicagoland universities — but the audience was mostly made up of students.  

Fourth-year Sophie Rounds, who is studying English and Spanish said she was impressed by the amount of people. Arriving slightly late to the event, Rounds said she had to find a place to stand in the back of Palm Court. She said having the opportunity to listen to a published author was beneficial. 

“I’m very glad that we did this, and I’m very glad I got to be here,” Rounds said. 

Associate professor Aaron Baker, who teaches the writing of poetry, said he hopes this event leads to more in the future. He said the human connection to the writer, or what he calls “the creator,” is of the most significance. Baker said as an undergraduate he was awestruck when writers would visit on-campus events.

“They populate the bookstore with these little tickets to adventure,” Baker said.

Meredith Gerard, a fourth-year English major, said she was surprised by the amount of challenging questions about his relationship to his work and identity. Gerard said the event was “a big deal” because she values the work of her peers and being able to share her own work in class. 

“It’s nice to know that there’s people in the community — and people who are in charge at this school — that want to cultivate opportunities like this for us to come together,” Gerard said.

Featured photo by Xavier Barrios / The Phoenix

Xavier Barrios

Xavier Barrios