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University of Iowa News Release


May 28, 2008

UI alumnus Nam Le returns for June 10 'Live from Prairie Lights' reading

University of Iowa Writers' Workshop alumnus Nam Le, whose debut short-story collection, "The Boat," is attracting prominent critical acclaim, will present a free reading at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Listen live via the University of Iowa Writing University website

The event will also be recorded for broadcast on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series, originating on UI radio station WSUI-AM 910. Hour-long Iowa Public Radio "Live from Prairie Lights" productions, hosted by Julie Englander, air at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays on WSUI-AM 910 in Iowa City and WOI-AM 640 in Ames.

Le was born in Vietnam, but he and his family became "boat people," refugees fleeing the communist takeover. Before coming to the UI, he worked as a corporate lawyer in Australia, where his family had settled.

He has received the Pushcart Prize, the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Phillips Exeter Academy. His fiction has appeared in venues including Zoetrope: All-Story, A Public Space, Conjunctions, One Story, NPR's "Selected Shorts" and has been anthologized in "The Best American Nonrequired Reading," "Best New American Voices," "Best Australian Stories" and the Pushcart Prize anthology. He is also the fiction editor of the Harvard Review.

Mary Gaitskill, the author of "Bad Behavior," wrote, "Nam Le is extraordinary. His editor remarked to me that he 'must be heard'; I would add that he WILL be heard, that 'The Boat' will be read for as long as people read books. Its vision and its power are timeless."

John Burnham Schwartz, the author of "Reservation Road" and "The Commoner," commented, "From the very first page of 'The Boat,' Nam Le's extraordinary talent, range of vision, and moral courage make the reader sit up and take notice. By the last page, one feels a kind of fervent gratitude -- rare enough these days -- for having been introduced to a young writer whose mark on the literary world, so freshly made, will only grow deeper in the years to come."

Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times, "Mr. Le not only writes with an authority and poise rare even among longtime authors, but he also demonstrates an intuitive, gut-level ability to convey the psychological conflicts people experience when they find their own hopes and ambitions slamming up against familial expectations or the brute facts of history. . . [Le's] sympathy for his characters and his ability to write with both lyricism and emotional urgency lend his portraits enormous visceral power."

And Michael McGaha wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, "In his book's opening story, he plays with the elusive boundaries between truth and fiction by identifying the narrator as 'Nam,' a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop who seems identical to the author, as far as we can tell. The story's title is 'Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice.' As a fellow student reminds Nam, those are the 'old verities' that Faulkner famously advised young writers to focus on. This friend admires Nam for doing that rather than exploiting 'the Vietnamese thing' in his fiction.

"The narrator then proceeds to write an 'ETHNIC STORY,' attempting to recount his father's unspeakably horrific experience as a survivor of the My Lai massacre. Both that story, and the frame story containing it -- as well as the six other stories in this book -- offer strong evidence that the most effective way to convey the universal human qualities Faulkner admired in literature is, paradoxically, through the individual and the particular."

Listen to an NPR interview with Le at

The Writers' Workshop is a graduate program in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jan Weissmuller, Prairie Lights Bookstore,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),