Podcast with Ocean Vuong

I recently sat down with Ocean Vuong to record the season opener of one of my favorite podcasts! Listen to “We Have This-ness, Y’all! Ocean Vuong and Amy E. Elkins” over at Novel Dialogue or wherever you get your podcasts.

Season 5 of Novel Dialogue opens with an impassioned refresher course in literary theory brought to you by Ocean Vuong, poet and author of the bestselling novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019). Ocean talks with critic Amy E. Elkins and host Emily Hyde about browsing bookstore shelves and building his personal reading list of “life-giving weirdos.” They discuss genre and gender, antiquing and thrifting, fish sauce and photography, all the while integrating the insights of queer theory and the full range of literary history. What does looking at the world as a junkyard have to do with making art? What does it feel like to run smack dab into a memory? How can we be mindful of the fact that words (like “this”) are tiny objects with infinite possibilities? If autofiction annoys you, listen for how the form reinvents the self against dominant class and gender structures. And if your boots have ever touched down in Hot Springs, Arkansas, stay tuned for our signature question and don’t miss this episode!

Image credit: Amy E. Elkins, “Ocean’s Boots” (2023). I sat down and painted this after we recorded the episode. I aimed to capture the energy and exuberance of the conversation but also to let the messiness of life–and the writing life–exist there, too. I suppose I was also thinking about the end of Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, one of my very favorite conclusions. Woolf layers an empty room and an empty chair with the chaos of life beyond the room, with a mother announcing her son’s death (in a sense) with an old pair of empty shoes held aloft. The shoes represent an intimate sort of dwelling, a vessel for absence, the embodied/worn architecture of the novel-as-elegy.

Mentioned in this episode:

Judith Butler
Anne Carson Autobiography of Red
Bhanu Kapil
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Djuna Barnes Nightwood
Freytag’s triangle
Flaubert’s flâneur
Tim Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture
Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov”
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
Amy E. Elkins, “The Weaver’s Handshake”
William Carlos Williams
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Susan Sontag
Walt Whitman
Langston Hughes
Lucille Clifton
Hot Springs High School
The Sugarhill Gang, “Rappers Delight
Duchamp’s ready-mades