What I’m Reading Now… by Diana Khoi Nguyen

 

(1) Lauren Yee, Ching Chong Chinaman (Samuel French, 2011)

Fresh off the plane from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference where I spent as much time in lakes as I did at readings, I am still astonished by the life-altering experience of attending a reading of playwriting faculty Yee’s work-in-progress about two different (familial and temporal) road trips from the East Coast to Portland. She graciously attended to my numerous questions afterwards, offering advice and resources for someone hungry to read and write plays. While I can no longer hear her read or sit in on her playwriting workshops, I am deep into Ching Chong Chinaman, a play whose familial characters are uncannily familiar to me: Chinese-American parents with a World of Warcraft gamer for a son and a daughter hoping to gain early admission to Princeton. The play is irreverently hilarious in its depictions of assimilation and upending of expectations and stereotypes, and all its details are precise in ways I desire for both the imaginative world and the real one—take this note after the cast of characters:

Note: At no time do the CHINESE WOMAN or the JINQIANG speak with Asian accents. Or any of the characters, for that matter.

(2) Dan O’Brien, Plays One (Oberon Books, 2017)

Sewanee’s other playwright-faculty, Dan O’Brien, also gave a reading that resonated with me, though for entirely different reasons: O’Brien was a poet before he began writing plays, and his plays often combine elements of documentary, memoir, and autofiction. As someone working on a dissertation which employs multi-modality and -media, it was a no brainer for me to pick up this collection of O’Brien’s plays which investigate the legacy of war, death, survival, history, and (self-)documentation—and I’m only on the first play in the collection.

(3) Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, 2017)

As part of preparation of this multi-modal/media dissertation composition/making bonanza, I compiled a brief reading list of graphic memoirs which explore flight or exodus from various homelands (my dissertation seeks to gain understanding of the refugee experience from interviews conducted with members of the Vietnamese diaspora). Many dear friends recommended Bui’s memoir, and I’m indebted to them: the memoir is composed of heartbreaking and breathtaking panels—Bui is both seer and painter of the personal and political, familial and historical, speculative and real. I have never read, traced, wondered at something so unflinching, honest, jubilant, and hard.

(4) Susan Howe, Sorting Facts: Or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker (New Directions Poetry Pamphlet, 2013)

Though this moment’s reading list contains no collections of poetry, there is much poetry in the reading—and I’ve been swooning over this meditation from one of my favorite poet-scholar-humans, Susan Howe. Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media commissioned Howe to write about nonfiction film, and here she weaves her husband’s death, her own documentation of his life and work, and the haunting images and “document” of Marker’s La Jetée and Sans Soliel. I admire and am inspired by Howe’s investigation into personal and international (martial) history, use of etymology, Stevensian examination of a thing. She calls poetry “factual telepathy” and I can’t get over it. She’s a genius.

(5) James Salter, Light Years (Random House, 1975)

Don’t make fun of me (or do): I was a Salter novice, but am newly self-appointed novitiate in the Order of Salter Sentences. Why had no one ever warned me, lured me toward him before? I am baffled, awe- and dumb-struck, furrowing my brow over these lines which slice through familial and friendly consciousnesses like a ghost through walls, mist lowering down upon the dimpled lake. The tone of these sentences mislead me, betray me, devastate me, and though I do not identify or relate to the cultural times of Light Years, I am one with its shifts, tides, ellipses