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Contributor Spotlight on Nguyen Phan Que Mai

by Dan Froid

The Internet has been alive lately with the sound of translation. Or perhaps the lack thereof: on the Melville House blog, Mark Krotov issued a call to action to bring back the National Book Award for Translation.  Still, we have much to celebrate: in the run-up before the announcement of the finalists for the Best Translated Book Award, an award organized by the Three Percent blog of the University of Rochester, a number of posts have popped up that debate potential contenders. And many of the nominees for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2015 are works in translation. In light of these recent discussions, this week we’d like to highlight a poet who deals directly with translation—of her own work. Nguyen Phan Que Mai is a journalist, poet, and filmmaker. She not only writes poems in both Vietnamese and English, she translates—occasionally collaborating with Vietnam war veteran and fellow poet Bruce Weigl—into and from both languages. Her most recent book is The Secret of Hoa Sen (BOA Editions, 2014) a bilingual collection of poetry containing translations from the Vietnamese by Que Mai and Weigl.

Que Mai is the author of three other books of poetry: Stars in the Shape of Carrying Poles (Vietnam’s Writers Association Publishing House, 2011), Freeing Myself (Writers Association Publishing House, 2010), and Forbidden Fruit (Arts and Literature Publishing House, 2008). She’s also written a travel book and a children’s book, in addition to numerous translations.

Trust us, translation talk will continue well into 2015, including here at Prairie Schooner: Que Mai will curate the next edition of FUSION, featuring poetry translated from the Vietnamese in juxtaposition with poems from our archives, all centered on the theme of “aunts.” Look for it in February.

For a taste of Que Mai’s work, check out “Eating Phở with My Grandpa,” from the summer 2014 issue of Prairie Schooner. Her website also contains a plethora of her journalism, films—including her “Decent Work” film series—and more.