NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI

 

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (pronounced ŋwiən fα:n kwe mai) is an award-winning writer and journalist. She is the author of eleven books of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese and English. Her writing in Vietnamese has received the 2010 Poetry of the Year Award from the Hanoi Writers Association, the Capital’s Literature & Arts Award, and First Prize in the Poetry Competition celebrating 1,000 Years of Hanoi. Her debut novel and first book in English, THE MOUNTAINS SING, is an International Bestseller, a New York Times Editors' Choice Selection, Winner of the 2020 BookBrowse Best Debut Award, Winner of the Blogger's Book Prize 2021, Winner of the 2021 International Book Awards, and Winner of the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship for "a work of exceptional quality" and for "contribution to peace and reconciliation". The novel has been named a best book of 2020 by many media establishments including NPR and the Washington Independent Review of Books. Quế Mai is the translator of seven books published in Vietnam and the United States, and has received the Vietnam Writers Association’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Advancement of Vietnamese Literature Overseas. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the UK's Lancaster University. She currently divides her time between Indonesia and Vietnam. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, BBC Vietnamese, Lit Hub, Poets & Writers Magazine, among others. She has just been named by Forbes Vietnam as one of 20 inspiring women of 2021. Her second novel in English, Dust Child, is forthcoming with Algonquin Books.

Quế Mai is passionate about empowering others. In her voluntary roles, she is an editor of DVAN's publishing series, an Author Advocate for Room to Read, a creative writing teacher at the Roshan Learning Center for Refugees, and Founder and Head of Advisory Committee of Chắp Cánh Ước Mơ Volunteer Group. 

 

Personal & Creative Life 

Born in a small village in the North of Vietnam in 1973, Quế Mai migrated with her family to the Mekong Delta, South of Vietnam when she was six years old. Her parents worked as teachers and rice farmers and never had the chance to go to university. Together with her two elder brothers, Quế Mai did many types of jobs to help her family earn their living including working on rice fields, selling vegetables and cigarettes on streets. In 1992, a scholarship from the Australian government enabled her to travel outside Việt Nam for the first time. After four years of studies in Melbourne, she graduated as the top student from Monash University's Bachelor in Business Management and Business Administration.

Quế Mai returned to Vietnam and contributed to the sustainable development of her homeland via her position with international organizations, including UN agencies. She founded Chắp Cánh Ước Mơ - a voluntary group to support children living with cancer and as well as two scholarship programs to offer opportunities for disadvantaged Vietnamese children to continue schooling.

A Writer's Dream

In 2016, Quế Mai returned to her childhood dream of becoming a writer when she was thirty-three years old. Starting her career with poetry, she quickly won some of the top literary prizes of Vietnam including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Hanoi Writers Association, the Capital’s Literature & Arts Award, First Prize - the Poetry Competition About 1,000 Years Hanoi. Many of her poems have been written into songs, the most famous being Tổ quốc gọi tên mình (I Hear My Country Calling My Name), loved by many people and sung everywhere in Vietnam. 

Passionate about literary exchanges to foster peace and reconciliation, Quế Mai has spent many years of her life translating poetry and other forms of literature. Seven books of her translations have been published in Việt Nam and the United States. For her translations work, she was awarded the Việt Nam Writers Association’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Advancement of Vietnamese Literature Overseas.

Writing in English

In 2014, Quế Mai's first international publication, her poetry collection, The Secret of Hoa Sen, translated by herself and Bruce Weigl, received an award from the Lannan Foundation in the United States and was published by BOA Editions as part of the Lannan Translations Selection Series. 

In an attempt to decolonize literature in English about Vietnam, Quế Mai started to write directly in English, to insert voices from Vietnam into this canon of literature. Thanks to scholarships from the UK's Lancaster University, she began her Masters in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) in 2012 and graduated with her PhD in Creative Writing in 2020. She completed two novel manuscripts during these two courses, one of which was published in March 2020 by Algonquin Books as The Mountains Sing. To find out Quế Mai's inspiration for this novel. Read her author's essay.

Quế Mai's main research area is the long-lasting impact of wars. She has worked extensively with veterans and war victims. She is committed to writing about war and injustice, to call for peace and equality. Her second novel, Dust Child, set in Việt Nam, is going to be published by Algonquin Books. To be updated with news about this exciting novel, subscribe to her author's newsletter.

A Global Nomad

Quế Mai has two teenage children. Her husband works in development assistance and his job has brought their families around the world. Together they have lived in Vietnam, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Belgium. Quế Mai currently divides her time between Indonesia and Vietnam. She has been running weekly creative writing workshops for Afghan refugees at the Roshan Learning Center, Jakarta, Indonesia. She is actively involved in sustainable development work in Vietnam and has been acknowledged with the Hanoi International Women’s Club Female Vision Award and the Australian Alumni Award for Sustainable Social Development. She regularly writes for newspapers of Vietnam, including Tuổi Trẻ, where her essays on women and children's rights, education, environmental protection, job creation, and social ethics have been featured on the front page of this leading national newspaper.

EMPOWERING OTHERS IS TO EMPOWER OURSELVES

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's keynote speech at UN Day, the Jakarta Intercultural School