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2022 Big Read Keynote Address: Thi Bui, author of The Best We Could Do in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen

Tuesday, April 5 @ 6:30 pm

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“I began to record our family history…thinking that if I bridged the gap between the past and the present, I could fill the void between my parents and me.”

—Thi Bui in The Best We Could Do

Join us for a virtual talk and Q&A with this year’s Big Read featured author, Thi Bui as she discusses this award-winning graphic memoir.   

Before she began to work on The Best We Could Do in 2005, Thi Bui had never drawn a comic in her life. Twelve years later, the debut graphic memoir would be released to widespread acclaim from critics and literary heavyweights alike. An American Book Award winner, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, and an Eisner Award finalist in reality-based comics, Bui’s memoir traces her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and their effort to build new lives for themselves in America. Bui documents parental sacrifice, excavates family histories, and grapples with the inherited struggles of displacement and diaspora.

This event is part of Miami Book Fair’s 2022 Big Read program, presented in partnership with Hopewell Valley Regional School District and Pennington Public Library.

Thi Bui is a Vietnamese American cartoonist and author of the critically acclaimed illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do. Her work seeks to make sense of the stories that history leaves behind.

Thi’s debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, is the story of her family in the years before, during, and after the Vietnam War. It was selected for an American Book Award, a Common Book for UCLA and other colleges and universities, a National Book Critics Circle finalist, and was an Eisner Award finalist. Her memoir was included in Bill Gates’ Top 5 Books of 2017, and was called, “A book to break your heart and heal it,” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Viet Thanh Nguyen.

A veteran illustrator, Thi’s short comics can be found online at The Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is a contributor to Refugees Anthology, published by Abrams Press, and illustrated A Different Pond, a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book, with writer Bao Phi. With her son, Hien, she co-illustrated the children’s book, Chicken of the Sea written by Viet Thanh Nguyen and his son, Ellison.

Thi is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about immigrant detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s writing is bold, elegant, and fiercely honest. His remarkable debut novel, The Sympathizer, won the Pulitzer Prize, was a Dayton Literary Peace Prize winner, and made the finalist list for the PEN/Faulkner award. Viet and his family came to the United States as refugees during the Vietnam War in 1975. As he grew up in America, he began to notice that most movies and books about the war focused on Americans while the Vietnamese were silenced and erased. He was inspired by this lack of representation to write about the war from a Vietnamese perspective, globally reimagining what we thought we knew about the conflict. The New York Times says that his novel, The Sympathizer, “fills a void…giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of forty years ago in a new light.” His voice is refreshing and powerful as he urges readers to examine the legacy of that tumultuous time and its aftermath from a new perspective. The audacious novel has also been described by The Guardian as having a “Whitman- like multiplicity” as it “reads like the absolute opposite of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” The Committed, the long-awaited follow-up to The Sympathizer, was published in 2021 and has been called “a masterwork” and “revelatory.” Viet’s book Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War was a finalist for the National Book Award. Author Ari Kelman praises Nothing Ever Dies saying it, “provides the fullest and best explanation of how the Vietnam War has become so deeply inscribed into national memory.” His collection of short stories, The Refugees, explores questions of immigration, identity, love, and family. In 2018, Viet called on 17 fellow refugee writers from across the globe to shed light on their experiences, and the result is The Displaced, a powerful dispatch from the individual lives behind current headlines, with proceeds to support the International Rescue Committee. Viet was the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. The MacArthur foundation noted that Viet’s work “not only offers insight into the experiences of refugees past and present, but also poses profound questions about how we might more accurately and conscientiously portray victims and adversaries of other wars.” Along with teaching at the University of Southern California, he works as a cultural critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times. Viet lives in LA with his wife and two children.

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