Vietnam-born poet and fiction writer Vi Khi Nao is the author of The Old Philosopher, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, Umbilical Hospital, and a half dozen other books. She holds an MFA from Brown University and lives in southern Nevada. Visit her at vikhinao.com.
In what way do you think literature has the ability to change the way people live their lives?
Change is a low caliber word. I wouldn’t use the word “change.”
Perhaps the best verb for this is “fuck with” or “duck tape” or “intimidate.”
What was the last book you gave as a present?
At the Lightning Field by Laura Raicovich. I got it for my friend, Kevin. He used to live in Philly and I was reading there and my visit to Philly reminded me of him.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Make sure you bring lots of raw shrimps when you are trying to seduce albatrosses. They love shrimps.
I think Leslie Thornton advised me that when I walked her to the train station in Providence. With regards to making films, but I think it applies to writing too.
Which author do you re-read most frequently?
I don’t re-read.
What is the best sentence you’ve ever read?
"Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." - Gustave Flaubert
Describe your writing routine.
I walk 16 miles.
I finger-type a few sentences in between those miles.
Then I make cá kho tộ or chè đậu trắng.
I drop everything for my muse.
Once in awhile I tell a poet not to commit suicide.
Every day I tell my mother not to date men who won’t eat or try Vietnamese food.
How do you decide when to be done with a written work?
When I am afraid to edit it.
Name a writer who is a deep influence on you who you suspect hardly anyone you know has read.
Diane Williams - her editing skills - my god - her editing abilities.
Do you ever listen to music when you write? If so, what’s on your playlist?
I write best in the absence of sound, but if I must:
Kể Chuyện Trong Đêm
Giờ Tý Canh Ba
Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion
Hãy Về Đây Bên Anh
Con Đường Xưa Em Đi
If you were standing in line at a bookstore and noticed the person in front of you was holding your latest book, what would you say to them?
That book might make you die a little and don’t forget to eat durian ice cream after reading it.
What literary landmark would you most like to visit?
Do you own an e-reader?
Is Facebook good for you?
What about Amazon?
What job have you held that was most helpful for your writing?
Being a security guard in Kansas City for three months. It forces you to notice all the security cameras in the building of your writing. If you don’t notice the security cameras in your writing, you are doing something wrong. You are not astute enough. You are too narrowed. You must be hyperviligant or your production will doom you.
Is what you do important?
What is one of your vices?
I love eating burnt white Jasmine rice (com chay).
Favorite books you’ve read in the past year?
The Vegetarian by Han King