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Ocean Vuong: Refugee, LGBT Poet and Writer of This Generation

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There are few times in one’s life where you read something that is so masterfully written it brings you a new, rejuvenated love for writing — no not just for writing— but the whole English language. The whole English language, who you once thought you knew, begins to seem like a dark abyss, unexplored before this particular writer wrote. There are few times in one’s life where you read something whose writing style enthralls you, each compound-complex sentence brings another giddy giggle to your mouth. There are few times in one’s life where one is in awe of the cohesion, the register, the mode, the organization, the rhetorical devices employed.  There are few times in one’s life where you find a piece of writing, that brings tears to your eyes.

I was handed “Surrendering” an excerpt from the New Yorker in my AP English Language and Composition class and was introduced to the writer of our generation: Ocean Vuong.

Ocean Vuong came as a child refugee from war-torn Vietnam when he was only two years old. He had humble beginnings, coming from a family of rice farmers and living in a one bedroom apartment whom he shared with the rest of his family. He was raised by a single mother and spent most of his early years in poverty.

Probably most shocking of all is that this graceful writer was illiterate until the age of eleven.

Vuong rose above his economic and social situation and taught himself how to read and write. He would listen to speeches, like MLK’s “I have a Dream”, and learn words through those. He became a writer and poet through pure self-determination and grit.

Vuong has been featured in multiple magazines and newspapers and is a winner of the Whiting Award. Along with his award-winning poetry, he is changing the literary scene for LGBT writers and poets. Much of his work touches on LGBT-related subjects, a topic that is rarely seen in newspaper corporations.

Vuong’s work is the voice of the newer generation. It is the voice of immigrants and refugees. It is the voice of the LGBT community. It is the voice of poor people. It is the voice of writers.

I have been reading and writing since I was four, but can only hope to match Vuong’s level of mastery of the English Language. I urge every one of you to support him in his endeavors.

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Sameera Khan
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Sameera Khan is a 17-year-old Muslim, Pakistani-American living in California. She is passionate about education reform and race relations. Check out her Arts + Culture articles here: http://culture.affinitymagazine.us/author/sameerakhan/

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