REVIEW: Zell Visiting Writers Series: Hieu Minh Nguyen and Nicholson Baker

On Thursday night, I was lucky enough to be able to listen to Hieu Minh Nguyen read several of his poems at the UMMA. Unfortunately, Nicholson Baker was unable to attend the reading due to travel difficulties. However, Hieu commanded the stage so well that I didn’t even realize that the hour had flown by until he announced his second-to-last poem.

This was the third installment of the Zell series that I attended, and it succeeded in blowing me away again. Personally, as a writer myself, I love attending readings because I walk away feeling inspired, buzzing in a way that is indescribable and makes me want to sit down on the curb right outside of the venue and whip out a piece of paper and a pen. Each writer has their own unique energy that touches listeners in different ways.

However, out of all the installments I experienced in the past, this one was notable for the way in which Hieu commanded the stage. He immediately established an easy rapport with the audience, making us laugh with references to astrology and kindergarten-age romance. He was conversational and bold and bright, and after the first half hour I decided that if I would ever be able to choose whatever parallel universe I wished to inhabit, I would choose the one in which I was close friends with Hieu.

Because if there was one theme that made recurring appearances throughout the program, it was the importance of friendship: how much Hieu needs and treasures it. In fact, the person who introduced him with an opening statement was his close friend Franny Choi, an esteemed poet in her own right. Seeing the two of them hug onstage and smile and laugh, I could sense how deep the love for each other is; watching them admittedly made me miss my best friends at home.

Besides friendship, Hieu’s poems also dealt with heavy topics that centered on his experiences as being a queer, Vietnamese American poet. Though the night started out with laughter and lightheartedness, the mood became a bit more somber as he read more of his poems, which delved into the aforementioned darker issues (though none of his poems are trivial or shallow, by any means).

All in all, I enjoyed listening to Hieu Minh Nguyen read some of his works. I intend on reading more of them on my own, as well as attending future Zell events.

Hieu Minh Nguyen has a forthcoming collection of poetry, titled Not Here, released in 2018 by Coffee House Press. I anticipate reading it, and encourage others to, as well!

Image credits: University of Arizona


changje is a freshman who has no idea what she's doing with her life, but it's fine. She loves writing, quoting obscure vines, and drafting tweets in the shower. One can probably find her defending the obvious superiority of Extra gum's Spearmint flavor over the Polar Ice one.

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