2018 Presidential Medallion Honoree

Viet Thanh Nguyen

University Professor
Aerol Arnold Chair of English
Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature
USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

A renowned author, scholar, educator, and cultural critic, Viet Thanh Nguyen stands among the most talented and important writers of his generation.  His exceptional storytelling reaches out to the neglected and inspires millions of people around the world.  Professor Nguyen’s debut novel, The Sympathizer, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and epitomizes an extraordinarily creative body of work that has made a profound influence on our culture, while demonstrating the restorative power of art.

Professor Nguyen’s contributions to contemporary literature add remarkable layers of complexity to our historical narratives.  His subtly crafted fiction—including The Sympathizer and the short story collection The Refugees—examines how major institutional forces such as globalization, migration, and war reshape the emotional currents of individual lives.  With unrelenting honesty, Professor Nguyen chronicles the entwined destinies of Vietnam and the United States through the eyes of immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized peoples.  His commitment to verisimilitude transcends form, as he deftly creates memorable characters who plot the course of history on a human scale.

Such diverse, multi-dimensional perspectives also characterize Professor Nguyen’s nonfiction writings, which have further strengthened and expanded our academic discourse.  One of these penetrating critical studies, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, examines the role that our recollections play in evaluating the costs of armed conflict.  As a leader in the emerging discipline of Transpacific studies, Professor Nguyen directs explorations of collective memory and cultural exchange around the Pacific Rim that have become essential to understanding the region’s past and comprehending its future.  Recognized as an innovator in this field, he continues to guide students and scholars toward a deeper understanding of the Transpacific world.

Professor Nguyen has received considerable acclaim for his determined pursuit of artistic and personal truth.  In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, he has garnered numerous accolades for his writing, including the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Price.  Last year, both the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation named Professor Nguyen as a recipient of their prestigious fellowships—a testament to his tireless efforts in fostering a cultural climate more attentive to ethical nuance.

By opening new windows onto the landscape of history, Professor Nguyen has left an indelible mark on American literature and brought great honor to USC.  With tremendous compassion and literary skill, he is teaching generations to recognize in themselves—and in each other—similar testimonies of nostalgia, reconciliation, love, and loss.

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For his magnificent artistic accomplishments, his pioneering cultural scholarship, and his profoundly eloquent expression of the human condition, the University of Southern California is proud to present Viet Thanh Nguyen with the Presidential Medallion.