NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI

 

Born and raised in Việt Nam, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (pronounced ŋwiən fα:n kwe mai) is the author of the international bestseller The Mountains Sing, runner-up for the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the 2020 BookBrowse Best Debut Awardthe 2021 International Book Awardsthe 2021 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, and the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship for Fiction. She has published twelve books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese and English and has received some of the top literary prizes in Việt Nam including the Poetry of the Year 2010 from the Hà Nội Writers Association. Her writing has been translated into twenty languages and has appeared in major publications including the New York Times. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. She was named by Forbes Vietnam as one of 20 inspiring women of 2021. Her second novel in English, Dust Child, is forthcoming in March 2023. For more information, visit: www.nguyenphanquemai.com

Quế Mai is passionate about empowering others. In her voluntary roles, she is a Peace Advocate for PeaceTree Việt Nam, an editor of DVAN's publishing series, an Author Advocate for Room to Read, Advisor for Stories of Vietnam, and Founder and Head of Advisory Committee of Chắp Cánh Ước Mơ Volunteer Group. 

 

Personal & Creative Life 

Born in a small village in the North of Việt Nam in 1973, Quế Mai migrated with her family to the Mekong Delta, South of Việt Nam when she was six years old. Her parents worked as teachers and rice farmers and never had the chance to go to university. Together with her two elder brothers, Quế Mai did many types of jobs to help her family earn their living including working on rice fields, selling vegetables and cigarettes on streets. In 1992, a scholarship from the Australian government enabled her to travel outside Việt Nam for the first time. After four years of studies in Melbourne, she graduated as the top student from Monash University's Bachelor in Business Management and Business Administration.

Quế Mai returned to Việt Nam and contributed to the sustainable development of her homeland via her position with international organizations, including UN agencies. She founded Chắp Cánh Ước Mơ - a voluntary group to support children living with cancer and as well as two scholarship programs to offer opportunities for disadvantaged Vietnamese children to continue schooling.

A Writer's Dream

In 2016, Quế Mai returned to her childhood dream of becoming a writer when she was thirty-three years old. Starting her career with poetry, she quickly won some of the top literary prizes of Vietnam including the Poetry of the Year 2010 Award from the Hà Nội Writers Association, the Capital’s Literature & Arts Award, First Prize - the Poetry Competition About 1,000 Years Hà Nội. Many of her poems have been written into songs, the most famous being Tổ quốc gọi tên mình (I Hear My Country Calling My Name), loved by many people and sung everywhere in Việt Nam. 

Passionate about literary exchanges to foster peace and reconciliation, Quế Mai has spent many years of her life translating poetry and other forms of literature. Seven books of her translations have been published in Việt Nam and the United States. For her translations work, she was awarded the Việt Nam Writers Association’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Advancement of Vietnamese Literature Overseas.

Writing in English

In 2014, Quế Mai's first international publication, her poetry collection, The Secret of Hoa Sen, translated by herself and Bruce Weigl, received an award from the Lannan Foundation in the United States and was published by BOA Editions as part of the Lannan Translations Selection Series. 

In an attempt to decolonize literature in English about Vietnam, Quế Mai started to write directly in English, to insert voices from Việt Nam into this canon of literature. Thanks to scholarships from the UK's Lancaster University, she began her Masters in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) in 2012 and graduated with her PhD in Creative Writing in 2020. She completed two novel manuscripts during these two courses, one of which was published in March 2020 by Algonquin Books as The Mountains Sing. To find out Quế Mai's inspiration for this novel. Read her author's essay.

Quế Mai's main research area is the long-lasting impact of wars. She has worked extensively with veterans and war victims. She is committed to writing about war and injustice, to call for peace and equality. Her second novel, Dust Child, which is also her PhD thesis and set in Việt Nam, is going to be published by Algonquin Books. To be updated with news about this exciting novel, subscribe to her author's newsletter.

A Global Nomad

Quế Mai has two teenage children. Her husband works in development assistance and poverty alleviation; his job has brought their families around the world. Together they have lived in Vietnam, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Belgium, and Indonesia. Quế Mai currently divides her time between Kyrgyzstan and Việt Nam. She is actively involved in sustainable development work in Việt Nam and has been acknowledged with the Hà Nội International Women’s Club Female Vision Award and the Australian Alumni Award for Sustainable Social Development. She regularly writes for newspapers of Việt Nam, including Tuổi Trẻ, where her essays on women and children's rights, education, environmental protection, job creation, and social ethics have been featured on the front page of this leading national newspaper.

EMPOWERING OTHERS IS TO EMPOWER OURSELVES

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's keynote speech at UN Day, the Jakarta Intercultural School