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K-State Today

April 19, 2012

Panel honors landmark publications in Vietnamese American Studies

Submitted by Michele Janette

2011 was a landmark year for Vietnamese American Studies. The first literary anthology to offer a comprehensive collection of Vietnamese American writings in English was published by Kansas State University associate professor Michele Janette, and the first full-length book of literary criticism was published by San Francisco State University associate professor Isabelle Thuy Pelaud. The Association of Asian American Studies acknowledged these accomplishments in a panel where Janette and Pelaud discussed their volumes as interventions in the way Vietnam is understood in America. 

For both Janette and Pelaud, Vietnam is too often simply equated with the war that was fought there 35 years ago. The two literary scholars share a commitment to broaden this conception. Janette sees her anthology, titled "My Viet" – published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2011 – as a way for readers to discover the wide variety of Vietnamese American voices who have been publishing in English since 1962 on a wide variety of topics, from essays the appeal of Ho Chi Minh to plays that rewrite Shakespeare's Hamlet as a zombie rock-n-roll musical.

Pelaud wants her literary analyses in "This is All I Choose to Tell" – Temple University Press in 2011 – to help students find avenues into appreciation of this literature, as well as to understand the cultural contexts in which it has been produced. 

Janette and Pelaud were joined on the panel by novelist Lan Cao, who authored the first Vietamese American novel published by a major press, "Monkey Bridge" by Penguin, 1997. This novel was excerpted in Janette's anthology and analyzed in Pelaud's book. Cao described her motives for writing "Monkey Bridge" and offered a preview of her next novel, about a Vietnamese American veteran of the Vietnam War. Cao's next book is eagerly awaited as an upcoming new landmark in Vietnamese American literature.