Don’t miss 2023 Frank B. Hanes Writer-in-Residence, Monique Truong’s reading Tuesday, March 28, 2023 in Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall on UNC Campus. Award-winning Truong is the author of three novels (Body of Salt, Bitter in the Mouth, and The Sweetest Fruits), has written extensively on food, choral works, and operatic poems for the stage, and has a forthcoming children’s book.
In 1975, six-year-old Monique Truong and her mother left Vietnam as refugees. They came to America and were later joined, after the Fall of Saigon, by her father. They settled in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, before moving, again, to Ohio then Texas. She went on to graduate from Yale University and Columbia University School of Law before working as an intellectual property lawyer.
This forced removal from home—this wandering—has influenced a heartfelt sense of longing that colors all of Ms. Truong’s creative work and has shaped her into the great cataloguer of diasporic malaise and beauty. She explores family and food and history with the grace only lived experience can provide.
Lucky for us, in the late 1990s, while editing Watermark, an anthology of Vietnamese American poetry and prose, Ms. Troung was inspired to write a short story about a man named Binh. The story, “Seeds”, would eventually grow into her bestselling award-winning first novel, Body of Salt, which follows Binh’s experience in Paris as a cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The story blends time, space, history, and cultures into a singular flowing narrative with wide-ranging power. Versatile, profound, tender, beautiful, and delicious, it announced Ms. Truong as one of the world’s most original artists and thinkers.
Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review of Body of Salt, had this to say about Ms. Truong’s strengths: “Truong’s supple prose is permeated with sensual detail, reminiscent of A Debt to Pleasure in its evocation of the erotic possibilities of food. But it is her intuitive understanding of the condition of exile—’the pure, sea salt sadness of the outcast’—that infuses her novel with richness and beauty.”
Her second novel, Bitter in the Mouth, set in North Carolina, outside Charlotte, tackles identity and inherited trauma, challenging our typical “Black and White” understanding of race in the South. Another layered and complex book, it’s also delicious, using food and taste as a storytelling engine.
A third novel, The Sweetest Fruits, released in 2019, is another impressive feat of historical fiction and innovative storytelling, this time regarding the globetrotting exploits of Lafcadio Hearn, a famed translator.
In the twenty years since Body of Salt stormed the literary stage, Ms. Truong has received many honors, including the Dos Passos Prize, the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the American Academy of Art and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Van Lier Fellowship.
Monique Truong has written choral works and operatic poems for the stage. Her debut children’s book, Mai’s Áo Dài, is forthcoming.
As one reviewer said, “Beauty has come to be expected of Monique Truong’s prose, words brimming and vibrant, her evocative expressions and thoughtful sequencing in storytelling remarkable. But there is also substance in Truong’s writing, a pursuit of recovering voices erased from history — stories that cannot be told and that are at times overwritten.”