Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence
Dear Diaspora
Susan Nguyen
Winner of the 2020 Book Prize in Poetry

The winner of the 2020 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry is Susan Nguyen for her manuscript Dear Diaspora, chosen by guest-judges Matthew Dickman, Kate Daniels, and Hilda Raz with Editor-in-Chief Kwame Dawes. She will receive a $3,000 prize and publication from the University of Nebraska Press. Susan Nguyen hails from Virginia but currently lives and writes in Arizona. She received her MFA in poetry from Arizona State University. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Aleida Rodriguez Memorial Prize. In 2018, PBS Newshour featured her as "one of three women poets to watch," and she was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in Tin House,diagramNimrod, and elsewhere. 

About The Book

Dear Diaspora is an unapologetic reckoning with history, memory, and grief. Parting the weeds on a small American town, this collection sheds light on the intersections of girlhood and diaspora. The poems introduce us to Suzi: ripping her leg hairs out with duct tape, praying for ecstasy during Sunday mass, dreaming up a language for buried familial trauma and discovering that such a language may not exist. Through a collage of lyric, documentary, and epistolary poems, we follow Suzi as she untangles intergenerational grief and her father’s disappearance while climbing trees to stare at the color green and wishing that she wore Lucy Liu’s freckles.

Winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, Dear Diaspora scrutinizes our turning away from the trauma of our past and our complicity in its erasure. Suzi, caught between enjoying a rundown American adolescence and living with the inheritances of war, attempts to unravel her own inherited grief as she explores the multiplicities of identity and selfhood against the backdrop of the Vietnamese diaspora. In its deliberate interweaving of voices, Dear Diaspora explores Suzi’s journey while bringing to light other incarnations of the refugee experience.

About The Author

Susan Nguyen received her MFA in poetry from Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in Tin HouseDiagram, and other publications.

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Praise

Dear Diaspora is a capacious and wholly felt account of a speaker’s contending with place and memory. Susan Nguyen’s gorgeous book maps out the longing of a particular Vietnamese immigrant experience—in its main character, the adolescent Suzi—and also captures, through its documentary research, a collection of voices of Vietnam War refugees in the aftermath. Against a backdrop of love and desire is the search to knit together a place of belonging and origin, rooted both in the sensual world and in the realm of the imagination. Dear Diaspora is a heartbreaking and breathtaking debut.”—Cathy Linh Che, author of Split

“Susan Nguyen, in Dear Diaspora, asks: ‘At the center of your calamity, what grows?’ Nguyen’s gorgeously rendered poems answer that question with language and imagination. There’s devastation in this book—an absent father figure, displacement of the speaker, a fragmented Vietnamese diaspora, but out of this devastation emerges beauty. The speaker in this book collects broken things such as cicada wings that become whole in her rich internal world. Nguyen’s talent is palpable from the first line, and what a gift this book is. In her poem ‘Grief as a Question,’ Nguyen writes: ‘no one told me grief could be so ordinary.’ But out of grief and woundedness emerges a voice that is anything but ordinary.”—Victoria Chang, author of Obit

“‘Last night I had the American dream,’ Nguyen writes, puncturing the dream bubble in which ‘America’ exists as the only and inevitable state of success and belonging. In this collection, diaspora, specifically Vietnamese diaspora, is verdant and lush—suffused with green light, mustard greens, grass and trees—blooming through the drought of American love for Nguyen’s speakers. The poems in Dear Diaspora offer us a lexicon we’ve needed to imagine how we might arrive at and receive one another better in land and language, in memory and touch.”—Natalie Diaz, author of Postcolonial Love Poem