“To write memoir, you have to cut to the bone,” author Viet Thanh Nguyen reflected on his new memoir “A Man of Two Faces” with novelist Lysley Tenorio at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library last Tuesday. “It’s going to hurt.”
Nguyen, who came to America as a Vietnamese refugee in 1975, has never shied away from pain in his writing. According to him, “A Man of Two Faces” required metaphorically “drilling into rock” to excavate traumatic memories and hard truths.
“I had suppressed so many memories because they were so painful,” he confessed. “The origins of this book lay in an essay I wrote 30 years ago and put away in a milk crate. I couldn’t look at it until now.”
Nguyen spoke candidly about piecing together a fragmented family history after resettlement in America. He reflected on the unique challenge of writing a memoir, noting, “You have to betray things. It’s not just about telling the truth about yourself, but what must not be told about the people closest to you.”
Ultimately, Nguyen believes writers have a moral obligation to confront difficult realities. His work illuminates the untold stories of refugees and expands narratives around complex global conflicts.
Throughout the evening, Nguyen demonstrated profound thoughtfulness about his craft, family, identity, and the Vietnamese-American experience.
This event was generously supported by the DC Public Library Foundation.