Bellarmine College Preparatory alumnus Viet Thanh Nguyen, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
A member of Bellarmine’s graduating class of 1988, Nguyen, an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, received the award for his first novel, The Sympathizer, which was featured on over 30 book-of-the-year lists, including: The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Slate.com, and The Washington Post.
The Sympathizer begins in April 1975, as Saigon is about to fall to communist invasion. Described as black comedy, historical novel, and literary thriller, the novel follows a nameless spy who has infiltrated the South Vietnamese army and flees with its remnants to America. His mission: report on their efforts to continue their lost war. He observes the struggles of the Vietnamese refugees to survive in a melancholic Los Angeles.
In addition to receiving the Pulitzer, The Sympathizer won the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association.
“I think of the enormous debts I owe to everyone who fought for civil rights, for radical power, for economic equity, and how all these issues are inseparable from justice in the literary world,” noted Nguyen shortly after learning of winning the Pulitzer Prize. “No minority writer, no writer of color, can claim that he or she accomplished anything purely on their own merit. We all owe so much to the collective struggles and activists that preceded us, that laid the foundations for our individual achievement, to everyone lucky enough to be remembered and so many who have been forgotten.”
Nguyen received a commendation from the City of San Jose at the May 17 City Council meeting.