5 Questions with Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen
We talked to Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, one of the first recipients of The Wheeler Centre Next Chapter Writers’ Scheme.
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen is a Melbourne-based Vietnamese-Australian writer, editor and bookseller, and the Marketing & Communications Manager for the Feminist Writers Festival. Her work has been featured in publications including Meanjin, The Saturday Paper, Kill Your Darlings, SBS Life, Rookie and Frankie.
How did you first decide to become a writer?
There was never really a moment when I 'decided'—writing was just something I always did. My dad used to tell me stories he made up when I was a kid, and soon enough I was making up my own. I was a part of a program called Starfish in primary school that distributed magazines with writing by children, and I'd be so proud every time I had something included, or in the annual school magazine. After high school I fell out of it a bit even though I was studying journalism—I was a bit too self-conscious and hated everything I was producing— but eventually it came back to me, and I've been writing as a line of work for the last few years, both in literary and media spheres. It still gives me a thrill to see my name in print in publications I've long admired, and I think baby Giselle would be proud.
What project will you be working on, under during your time in the Next Chapter writers’ scheme?
My proposed work is a narrative nonfiction reflection on questions of identity growing up in Australia as the child of Vietnamese refugee parents, and the tension between my privileged upbringing and my parents’ disadvantaged background. I intend to bring together three separate lives—my parents' and my own—as I grapple with what it means to be a member of the Vietnamese diaspora in a privileged country, and my perennially changing relationship with family, culture and the concept of belonging.
What was your first response upon receiving the email confirming your acceptance into the program?
I was in Toronto and woke up to an email from Sophie Black asking me to give her a call. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I've never done anything with the speed at which I put money onto my Skype account! When she told me the news, I was in disbelief, and still am, to be honest – I didn't at all expect to be chosen for the program, and I'm so incredibly humbled by it.
What will the Next Chapter mean for you and your practice?
The opportunity to have so much incredible support to develop my first full-length work is one I don't take for granted—it's rare for a writer to have access to funding and mentorship at this level, and to have been chosen from such a competitive and high-quality field is a great privilege. I'm excited for the many doors this will open for my career. At the moment I work part-time in a bookstore and freelance—the funds from this fellowship will mean that I'll be able to devote more time to my manuscript, as well as spend more time with my family for the research aspect of it.
What are you currently reading right now? Which books which inspire your work?
I'm reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild, which is a book that many people have recommended to me over the years. The way she writes about family, mortality and place is very poignant, and has given me some ideas for my own work. I read really widely for work and I find little pieces of inspiration everywhere, but THE book for me is Looking for Alibrandi – I first read it at fourteen and it turned my world upside down.
Other books that have influenced the shape of my work and practice include Maus by Art Spiegelman, Alice Pung's memoirs, Nadja Spiegelman's I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This, and more recently Vietnamese diaspora graphic novels like GB Tran's Vietnamerica and Thi Bui's The Best We Could Do. It's fascinating to me to see how different writers deal with personal and sensitive subject matter, and how they handle telling stories that belong to not only themselves, but those around them.
“I didn't at all expect to be chosen for the program, and I'm so incredibly humbled by it. “
Each year, The Wheeler Centre picks ten outstanding writers and gives them $15,000 to develop their work. They match them with a mentor and work closely with them on bringing their writing to life, connecting them with peers, publishers and readers.
The next round of applications will open in May 2019.
Read more here.
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