Friday, April 10, 2009

Good News for a Favorite Author

One of our favorite writers, Andrew X. Pham, has just been award a Guggenheim Fellowship. This week, Edward Hirsch, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, announced that it has awarded 180Fellowships to artists, scientists, and scholars. The successful candidates were chosen from a group of almost 3000 applicants.

Andrew X Pham is the author of the powerful memoir Catfish and Mandala, a saga of family issues, identity, and reconciliation. Pham was born in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1967. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, his family escaped Communist Vietnam on a sinking boat and came to the US in 1977, when Pham was 10. He spent his teenage years in Northern California and then earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering from UCLA in 1990. He soon discovered that he was "inherently unfit for cubicle work," and so bounced around for a while. As a young adult, he went back to Vietnam and spent a year bicycling through four countries and getting to know his native country and its people. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam tells of growing up in the US as a Vietnamese and then traveling through Vietnam as an American. It is an unforgettable and moving story of exploration and the search for cultural identity. And it is one terrific book. When the book was published, Pham was living in Portland, and the book was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award for Literary Nonfiction.

Last year he published his second "memoir," The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars, which tells the story of the father, Thong Van Pham, through the words of the son. The book offers a stunning portrait of a country and its everyday citizens that moves beyond the sensationalistic headlines and the passionless summaries in the history books, a dramatized eye-opening account of a nation contending with the French occupation, the Japanese invasion, and the controversial “conflict” with the United States. I loved this book as well, although it was a tough read in terms of subject matter. It was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and The Oregonian named it one of the Top 10 National Books of 2008. Currently Pham lives in Hawaii.

Both of these books are beautifully written and tell remarkable and little-known stories. I recommend them highly. Rumor has it that Pham is working on a third Vietnam book; I can hardly wait!

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment. One of the hallmarks of the Guggenheim Fellowship program is the diversity of its Fellows. The ages of this year's Fellows range from twenty-nine to seventy; their residences span the world, from Waipahu, Hawaii, to New York City and from Toronto to Glasgow; and their Fellowship projects will carry them to every continent. In all, sixty-two disciplines and sixty-eight different academic institutions are represented by this year's Fellows. Fifty-six Fellows are unaffiliated or hold only adjunct or part-time positions at universities.

According to President Hirsch, since its establishment in 1925 the Foundation has granted more than $273 million in Fellowships to nearly 16,700 individuals. Scores of Nobel, Pulitzer, and other prizewinners grace the roll of Fellows, including Ansel Adams, W. H. Auden, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Philip Roth, Paul Samuelson, Wendy Wasserstein, Derek Walcott, James Watson, and Eudora Welty.

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