Ocean Vuong


Ocean Vuong is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 30 languages. A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur "Genius" Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize. Vuong's writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Granta, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, Interview, Poets & Writers, and The New Yorker. Born in Saigon, Vietnam and raised in Hartford, Connecticut in a working class family of nail salon and factory laborers, he was educated at nearby Manchester Community College before transferring to Pace University to study International Marketing. Without completing his first term, he dropped out of Business school and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a BA in Nineteenth Century American Literature. He subsequently received his MFA in Poetry from NYU.  He currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts where he serves as an Associate Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at UMass-Amherst. Source

Aubade with Burning City

South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.


            Milkflower petals on the street

                                                     like pieces of a girl’s dress.


May your days be merry and bright...


He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.

            Open, he says.

                                    She opens.

                                                      Outside, a soldier spits out

            his cigarette as footsteps

                        fill the square like stones fallen from the sky. May all

                                      your Christmases be white as the traffic guard

            unstraps his holster.


                                    His hand running the hem

of  her white dress.

                        His black eyes.

            Her black hair.

                        A single candle.

                                    Their shadows: two wicks.


A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children

                                        shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled

            through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog

                        lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs

                                                                                crushed into the shine

                                                       of a white Christmas.


On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard

                                                                      for the first time.


The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police

                            facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola.

                                          A palm-sized photo of his father soaking

            beside his left ear.


The song moving through the city like a widow.

            A white...    A white...    I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow


                                                          falling from her shoulders.


Snow crackling against the window. Snow shredded


                                       with gunfire. Red sky.

                          Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.

A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.


            The city so white it is ready for ink.


                                                     The radio saying run run run.

Milkflower petals on a black dog

                        like pieces of a girl’s dress.


May your days be merry and bright. She is saying

            something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks

                    beneath them. The bed a field of ice



Don’t worry, he says, as the first bomb brightens

                          their faces, my brothers have won the war

                                                                       and tomorrow...    

                                             The lights go out.


I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming...    

                                                            to hear sleigh bells in the snow...    


In the square below: a nun, on fire,

                                            runs silently toward her god— 


                        Open, he says.

                                                         She opens.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:



Poetic Form

Violence & War

Literary Devices:


an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference


a break between words within a metrical foot


visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work