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Vietnamese-American Author Thi Bui Wins High-Profile US Literary Award

An American Book Award is the latest accolade for Thi Bui's esteemed graphic novel The Best We Could Do.

Early this month, it was announced that The Best We Could Do, which depicts the story of a multi-generational Vietnamese family from early 20th-century Vietnam through occupation, war, immigration and assimilation in America, won one of the country’s most prestigious literary honors. In addition to significant press coverage and inclusion in school curriculums, the book has also already received an Eisner Award nomination, a National Book Critics Award Finalist Award, inclusion on the Washington Post’s 10 best graphic novels of 2017 and Bill Gates’ 7 best books of 2017.

The American Book Award Program is an independent endeavor not associated with any industry group, government body or institution that "respects and honors excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre. There would be no requirements, restrictions, limitations, or second places." Winners are chosen by an anonymous group of writers. While the awards carry no cash prize, they are highly respected and raise the profile of each author. Recent winners include Amiri Baraka, Dave Eggers, Solmaz Sharif, Nick Turse and Naomi Kline. The 2018 list of honorees has been praised for its diversity of subject and author background. 

The Best We Could Do is a Saigoneer favorite: we covered it when it was first released and followed up with an editorial detailing the experience of reading it here as a Saigon native. We were therefore thrilled to learn of the Book Award and reached out to Thi Bui to discuss the honor and current writing endeavors.

She tells Saigoneer that the award hasn't changed her mission: "My work remains the same - to amplify voices that are less heard, engage people in conversations that need to be had. The American Book Award enables me to do that more effectively. It’s like getting handed a better tool by people who understand the project. And on a personal level, it means a lot to me to receive the award that I watched my own writing teacher, the wonderful Fae Myenne Ng, receive ten years ago for her novel, Steer Toward Rock. I was a baby writer back then; it feels good to get this vote of confidence now from a community I respect and admire."

Bui has been working with Vietnamese writer and translator Nguyen Phan Que Mai on getting a Vietnamese version of the book released. Echoing sentiments that Que Mai expressed when we spoke with her earlier this year, Bui says, "A major rupture happened to our people almost half a century ago and we have not yet healed. I believe acknowledging that history through personal stories can be a way forward, towards mutual understanding, mutual recognition of pain, and hopefully reconciliation and healing."


Related Articles:

On Reading Thi Bui's Illustrated Memoir 'The Best We Could Do' in Saigon

'The Best We Could Do': A Memoir of One Vietnamese Family’s Journey to America

Riverbanks Silky With Ancient Songs: A Discussion With Writer Nguyen Phan Que Mai