Truong Tran was born in Saigon, Vietnam. He is the author of six previous collections of poetry, The Book of Perceptions, Placing the Accents, Dust and Conscience, Within The Margins, Four Letter Words and 100 words ( co-authored with Damon Potter.) He also authored the children’s book, Going Home Coming Home, and an artist monograph, I Meant To Say Please Past the Sugar. His poems and books have been translated into Spanish, French and Dutch. He is the recipient of The Poetry Center Prize, The Fund For Poetry Grant, The California Arts Council Grant and numerous San Francisco Arts Commission Grants. Truong is also a visual artist who believes that art, be it poetry, cooking, sculpting and even gardening, are his ways of thinking through the conscious of the times we live in.
His new book, Book of the Other: Small in Comparison, is published by Kaya Press. He will be reading from Book of the Other, and in conversation with special guest Muriel Leung in our City Lights LIVE! virtual events series on Wednesday, December 1st, 2021!
Where are you writing to us from?
I am right here in San Francisco. I came here as a graduate student, thinking that I was going to be here for a couple of years. 29 years later and I am still here. I am often asked the question of “Where are you from?” It usually comes with the implied statement of “you’re not from here.” I used to reply by stating where I’m from and how long I’ve been in San Francisco. At this point in my life, I respond by saying, “I’m not leaving.”
What’s kept you sane during the pandemic?
I’m not really sane. I wrote this book and was told that I was committing career suicide. If poets are thinking in terms of careers and if that is part of the sane existence, I am going to stick with my claims of insanity. I write and teach and make things in the hopes of inducing exhaustion and sleep. I hope to wake up the next morning to do the same. It keeps me going if not sane. During the pandemic, I edited this project obsessively with the intention of tunneling my way out of the subject, the book, this fated life. I had this practice of building a light object in the dark each night and turning it on at the end of the night. It made sense for both the book and existing in the pandemic.
What books are you reading right now? Which books do you return to?
I just finished Victoria Chang’s Obit. I’ve started reading Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, and I find myself returning to Bhanu Kapil’s How To Wash a Heart and Wanda Coleman’s Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems all the time. One speaks to me from across an ocean and the other speaks to me in my dreams.
Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?
Among the visual artists, I am a huge fan of Doris Salcedo, Ai Wei Wei, and Gabriel Orozco. More than anything, I am a fan of their thinking. I love it when thinking becomes art. Among the writers, again I look to Bhanu Kapil and Wanda Coleman. That’s about all I need to get by in this world.
If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?
I think my bookstore would be called The Other’s Books. I’m not sure what would be the bestseller but I do know for sure what will not be on the shelves. I’m not going to elaborate.