Interview
24 October 2017

This September ULIP welcomed a new Affiliate Researcher, Dr Alex Kurmann, who joined us from Macquarie University, Sydney.

Dr Kurmann will be spending the next three months at ULIP, working alongside ULIP researchers, participating in seminars, and making use of the rich resources of Paris to further her personal research projects. She will also be organising a Study Day, Transdiasporic Literature: Vietnam and Beyond, later in December, which will bring together academics, audiences, and a number of acclaimed authors for an afternoon of debate and discussion on Vietnamese and diasporic literatures.

We spoke with Dr Kurmann about her research interests and the upcoming Study Day.

How did you become interested in Vietnamese diasporic writing?

I wrote my thesis on the literary work of Linda Lê, a Vietnamese-Francophone writer exiled in Paris, and the intertextual connections with other authors of the European exile writing tradition in her oeuvre. I had the great fortune to be supervised during my doctoral studies by a world-leading expert on Lê’s writing, Dr Tess Do at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Her passion for the subject was contagious and motivated me to broaden my research subject after my doctorate to encompass comparative studies of Vietnamese refugee and migrant writing post-1975, the Fall of Saigon.

Could you tell us a bit about your research on Vietnamese diasporic writing across different nations of settlement and languages? Do these distinct tradit

My research takes the form of a long term project that aims to compare all forms of literary production by Vietnamese authors writing across the Francophone, and Anglophone worlds in France, Quebec, The French Pacific, The United States, Canada and Australia, where important communities of Vietnamese refugees and migrants have formed over the course of the past forty years.

There are indeed manifest correlations between works produced across the Vietnamese Diaspora. There are two examples from my own research which stand out in particular: the first pertains to resistance against the nation of settlement’s prescription of what refugee and migrant authors are allowed to write about, as seen in short stories by Kim Thúy residing in Quebec and by the Vietnamese-French author, Thanh-Van Tran-Nhut; the second, which Tess Do and I have called ‘the boat narrative’, that is, short fiction texts that describe the refugee boat journey out of Vietnam during and after 1975, can be seen in the contemporary work of French, Quebecois and Australian authors, Linda Lê, Kim Thúy and Nam Le respectively. Such stories are narrated by a child figure and appear to serve as means to recuperate memories of flight that have been forgotten by second generation refugees whose family seeks to protect them from refugee trauma.

Does your research focus on text alone, or are you also interested in other media?

Until now I have worked exclusively with the text, in particular on novels, short stories and literary essays. However for this project I am working with newer literary forms such as the bande dessinée that has made breakthroughs in reaching larger audiences. For example the writer and artist, Marcelino Truong, who has also kindly accepted an invitation to speak at the Study Day, has gained recognition for his Vietnam War memoirs of life in Vietnam, England and France in his graphic novels.

Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming Study Day that you are organising at ULIP?

The event is called Transdiasporic Literature: Vietnam and Beyond and seeks to establish dialogues between writers and scholars of Vietnamese and diasporic literatures. Scholars don’t always have the opportunity to discuss their research with the very creators of the texts they take as objects of study and vice versa. Therefore, as well as presenting innovative new research on diasporic literatures by academics in the broader field, the event includes presentations by Vietnamese diasporic authors residing in Paris: the 2017 Prix Littérature-monde winner, Anna Moï, author, among other works, of Riz noir and Le venin du papillon; graphic artist and novelist, Marcelino Truong, author of Une si jolie petite guerre and Saigon Calling; and crime fiction and short story writer, Thanh-Van Tran-Nhut, author of Les enquêtes du mandarin Tân and Le Palais du Mandarin.

Registration for the Study Day is now open here.

For those wishing to present, please send abstracts of up to 200 words to Alex Kurmann at alex.kurmann@mq.edu.au by 15th November.