On Saturday, September 23, poet Peter Balakian and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen will grapple with the shifting place of humanities in a postmodern and possibly “post-book” world. Their conversation is a signature event at INNOVATE ARMENIA 2017—a day of discovery, insightful dialogue, music, food, wine and chess sponsored by USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies.
Balakian, a professor of humanities at Colgate University, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his volume, Ozone Journal. The title poem — organized in 54 short sections — drifts from memories of excavating the bones of Armenian genocide victims in the Syrian desert to a montage of other memories—the dissolution of a marriage, life as a single parent in Manhattan, and encounters with a cousin dying of AIDS.
Nguyen, a professor of English and American and ethnic studies at USC, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his debut novel, The Sympathizer. Set in 1975 at the fall of Saigon, the narrative takes the reader inside the mind of a South Vietnamese army officer secretly spying for the Viet Cong—an honorable man torn between his political convictions and personal loyalties. Nguyen is also the author of The Refugees where he gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. “Viet’s fiction, beautifully written and sharp, is about refugees. All of them. About their (or, our) aspirations, desires, memories, guilt and a search for self-fulfillment of some kind,” said Ghazarian.
Now in its third year, Innovate Armenia explores what it means to be Armenian in the 21st century and celebrates the accomplishments of all innovators. The day’s events include back-to-back speakers in Bovard Auditorium, including a conversation with Washington Postcolumnist David Ignatius and his brother, Harvard Business Review editor-in-chief Adi Ignatius; and a presentation by Hovig Etyemezian, chief of the Mosul operation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and grew up in America. The Sympathizer is his first novel. The Refugees is his second. His short stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative and the Chicago Tribune. His scholarly books include Race and Resistance (2002) and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016).
Peter Balakian is the author of seven books of poems. His prose works include a memoir, Black Dog of Fate (1997); a history of the American response to the Armenian genocide, The Burning Tigris (2003); and Vise and Shadow (2015), a collection of essays on poetry, culture and art.
INNOVATE ARMENIA takes place Saturday, September 23, 10 am to 6 pm in Alumni Park and Bovard Hall on USC’s University Park Campus. Admission is free. For details, click here.
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