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Monique Truong looks to foster connection through fiction in lecture series

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Writer-in Residence Monique Truong will be giving a reading at Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall on March 28, 2023.

Award-winning author Monique Truong will be visiting the University next week as part of the 2023 Frank B. Hanes Writer-in-Residence Program. 

The UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature annually chooses a contemporary author to host talks and symposia related to literature. As this year’s selected writer-in-residence, Truong will meet with classes, hold creative writing sessions and interact with UNC students and faculty next week. 

Liz Gualtieri-Reed, director of special programs for the department, said the purpose of the program is to encourage students to engage with a contemporary author and have individual and collaborative conversations with their peers.

One event is a reading of selected works hosted by Truong next Tuesday at Moeser Auditorium. Audience members will include people from both inside and outside the University community, including a Duke University class studying Truong’s works. 

Gualtieri-Reed said readings like this foster connection with the community while also identifying modern contemporary writers.

Additionally, two panels titled “Food and Identity in the South (and the Hunger of the Spirit)and “Writing Historical Narrativeswill take place during Truong’s visit. She said discussions on food and historical narratives are essential to the themes within her novels. 

“My writing is often focused on food and not always just what's on the plate. The way that I approach food, I think of it as very political and very historical. I want the full context,” Truong said.

Her debut novel, “The Book of Salt," describes a Vietnamese cook who works for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris. Another one of her novels, “Bitter in the Mouth,illustrates a first-person narrator’s synesthesia through their ability to taste certain words.   

“The thing that intrigues me about working with the past is that the characters that I often have written about are the people who are marginally in the archives,” Truong added. “They're not the folks that get the biographies necessarily written about them.”

Unlike previous editions, this year’s program is co-sponsored by the English department and the UNC Asian American Center. 

Krupal Amin, the associate director of the center, said she hopes the program can look into the material experiences of various individuals on campus, especially those with unique backgrounds. 

“Ideally, we want to ensure that all students on campus find a way to connect with UNC," Amin said. "And this program is one way to start a discussion that will hopefully touch on the experiences of a lot of different kinds of students.” 

She also added that the experiences offered through the writer-in-residence program are essential because they allow students to slow down and connect with others in order to be more empathetic and compassionate individuals.

“Sometimes it's just a conversation where you listen, and you take things in, and you process things and you help that inform your worldview and how you engage with other people,” Amin said.

For the Tuesday reading, Truong said she plans to present excerpts from her 2019 novel “The Sweetest Fruits," which covers the story of Lafcadio Hearn. She said she decided to further delve into the lives of Hearn’s mother and two wives – women who shaped Hearn not only as a human being but also the works that he published. 

Ultimately, Truong said she hopes her works will allow students to keep in mind that there is something powerful about fiction. 

“It requires you to look at the world in a different way. And those are all the skills I think that we all need right now in order to be more empathetic to one another,” Truong said. “Because that's exactly what is missing.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this article listed the incorrect members of Hearn's family that "The Sweetest Fruits" covers. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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