SJSU Center for Literary Arts Presents MacArthur Genius Awardee Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen

In its most ambitious annual program yet, the Center for Literary Arts at San José State University brings to Silicon Valley three 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. For $100, patrons of the arts, be they paupers or kings, can hear, meet and converse with all three of the 2016 recipients of the nation’s most prestigious literary awards in fiction, autobiography, and poetry.

Our first speaker for the season, Viet Thanh Nguyen, was named a 2017 MacArthur Genius for his work in nonfiction and fiction. Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer for fiction for The Sympathizer, a story of espionage during the Vietnam War, grew up in San Jose in the 1970s and 1980s as a refugee. His parents founded one of the city’s first Vietnamese groceries. The Sympathizer’s nameless main character, a communist spy, expresses a Vietnamese perspective on the war, American politics, and Hollywood’s treatment of the Vietnamese people. Nguyen has become an international literary star, writing fiction and nonfiction about the war and the global diaspora of Vietnamese people. He recently appeared in Elle France magazine. His story, “I’d Love You To Want Me,” from his new short-story collection The Refugees, appeared in Russian Esquire. In conversation with San Francisco writer Andrew Lam, himself a Vietnamese refugee, Nguyen speaks at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Hammer Theatre Center, 101 Paseo de San Antonio Walk, Downtown San Jose.

California surfer and international political journalist William Finnegan, author of the autobiography Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, described himself as a young man as “general prick,” in a December 2015 interview. He was so fanatical about surfing, he said, that he had no time or interest to give to girlfriends, even those he loved. Finnegan, currently a staff writer for The New Yorker, spent nearly four years beginning in 1978 surfing the world’s beaches, then decades fermenting his autobiography, even as he earned national writing and journalism awards covering politics and wars in South Africa, Mozambique and Mexico as well as U.S. immigration and what it’s like to be an American teenager. William Finnegan speaks in conversation with author Steve Kettmann and reads at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Cafe Stritch, 374 S. 1st St., San Jose.

Historian, memoirist and poet Peter Balakian has researched and written extensively about the genocide against Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The mass murder, including forced marches and concentration camps, claimed at least 1.5 million lives, including members of his family. His grandmother and aunts fled on foot. Growing up in suburban New Jersey after World War II, his family’s history “wasn’t spoken about. It was not discussed,” Balakian told the PBS Newshour on May 30, 2016, after winning his prize. He began writing poetry as a college student and to explore his family’s heritage in the mid-1970s. San José State University President Mary Papazian, who holds a doctoral degree in English and is also Armenian, will interview the poet. Peter Balakian, author of Ozone Journal, appears at 7 p.m. April 12 at the
Hammer Theatre Center.

Tickets for each event may also be purchased individually, with student discounts available. Visit  for details.