The B&N Podcast: Ocean Vuong on Surrendering to the Story

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

“Writing your own story is perhaps the truest enactment of the American dream.” Today on the B&N Podcast, we’re talking with Ocean Vuong, the author of the remarkable, haunting new novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It’s the debut work of fiction from a writer already celebrated for his work as a poet, but this poignant novel, written in the form of a young man’s letter to his mother, has captivated readers and critics, making it one of the most talked-about books of 2019. He joined B&N’s Miwa Messer for a conversation about this unique story of family, loss, survival, and falling in love.

Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.


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Author photo of Ocean Vuong (c) TK