$625,000 'genius grants' go to Ocean Vuong and six other writers

The MacArthur Foundation honours, which encourage winners to ‘continue to innovate’, also won by Valeria Luiselli, Lynda Berry and Emily Wilson

Ocean Vuong, the award-winning poet who came to the US with his family aged two as a refugee from Vietnam, is one of seven writers to be awarded a so-called “genius grant” of $625,000 (£504,000) by the MacArthur Foundation.

The no-strings-attached fellowships are intended to allow recipients to “continue to innovate, take risks, and pursue their vision”. Vuong was chosen alongside six other writers: graphic novelist Lynda Barry, cultural historian Saidiya Hartman, the Booker-longlisted author Valeria Luiselli, American historian Kelly Lytle Hernandez, literary scholar Jeffrey Miller and classicist Emily Wilson, who in 2017 was the first woman to publish a translation of Homer’s Odyssey in English.

The MacArthur Foundation praised Vuong for poetry that marries “folkloric traditions with linguistic experimentation”. His is a “vital new literary voice demonstrating mastery of multiple poetic registers while addressing the effects of intergenerational trauma, the refugee experience, and the complexities of identity and desire,” it added.

Winner of the TS Eliot and Forward prizes for his debut collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, Vuong recently published his first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. “Often we demand of the American novel to be cohesive, a monolithic statement of a generation, but having grown up post-9/11, cohesion was not part of my generation’s imagination nor our language or self-identity, and I felt if I was to write my version of the American novel it would have to look more like fragmentation,” said Vuong in an interview for the MacArthur Foundation.

The loosely autobiographical novel is written as a letter to a mother who cannot speak English or read. “I grew up surrounded by Vietnamese refugee women who used stories to create portals,” said Vuong. “I use language and literature as a way to orchestrate a framework to think and inquire about American life, including the legacy of American violence.”

In total, 26 fellows have been chosen by the foundation this year, from geochemist Andrea Dutton to visual artist Jeffrey Gibson. President John Palfrey said that all the fellows “give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts”.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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