McNeese MFA graduate Eric Nguyen has just seen his first novel, Things We Lost to the Water, released by the preeminent literary publisher Knopf.
The book tells of a mother, Huong, and her two young sons, Tuan and Binh, who come to New Orleans from Vietnam in the 1970s. They try to stay connected to each other as they gradually adapt to American life.
In an effort to retain his Vietnamese culture, Tuan joins a local Vietnamese gang. Binh strikes out much further afield, adopting the Anglo name Ben, moving ahead into an American life and endeavoring to accept the fact that he is gay.
As Huong senses that the family is starting to splinter, she does what she can to stay close to her two very different sons.
But Hurricane Katrina forces matters. And family members are forced to make a firm decision about whether they want to stay together or go their separate ways.
While he was working on his MFA at McNeese, Nguyen visited New Orleans and learned about its Vietnamese community. That education was the inspiration for his novel.
How did McNeese enable Nguyen to write a novel that was of interest to Knopf? He says the program provided him with “a wide range of literature classes, intensive workshops and an encouraging faculty … The program was the kind of place that if you’re sick everyone knows, and someone will bring over a casserole or soup; where someone will drive you home in a rainstorm knowing that you biked to class.”
Nguyen emphasizes his undergraduate degree was not in English literature — evidence that the McNeese program can take writers with less than ideal preparation and whip them into shape. “I think McNeese is the perfect place to grow as a writer,” he says. Praise isn’t going to get much more complimentary than that.
The book will be available for purchase by the time this magazine hits the stands. Nguyen will participate in a virtual event for the book at the Calcasieu Parish Public Library at 10 am on Tuesday, May 11.
At present, Nguyen lives in Washington, D.C., where he is the editor-in-chief of diaCRITICS, the online journal and blog of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network, which was founded in 2010. The journal “presents nonfiction, fiction and poetry to empower Vietnamese artists in the diaspora and to promote understanding and dialogue within our community and with others.” It targets both national and international audiences. Some of its many articles are written in English; some in Vietnamese. Explore it at dvan.org.
Nguyen has been awarded fellowships from Lambda Literary, Voices of Our Nation Arts and the Tin House Writers Workshop.
St. Louis Students: Novel Film Ideas
Students in St. Louis High School’s Media Arts course, taught by Robbie Austin, made two films that were entered in the recent Film Prize Junior competition in Shreveport.
In one of the films, Kreepshō Krüe, a group of students get together for a monthly meeting where they show each other scary movies.
As for the film’s unusual title, those involved in the filmmaking project felt that “Kreep” spelled with a K would be a little more disturbing than “Creep.” And Austin says that “Krüe” is a nod to the ‘80s band Mötley Crüe. He admits that his students had no idea who they were, but, he says, “I liked it.”
The director of the film is St. Louis junior Ann-Margaret Rosteet. She is hoping to study graphic design and media in the future.
In keeping with a lot of contemporary horror films, Rosteet included found footage in her work. The film incorporated the hurricane damage done to the Media Arts classroom. Dialogue was improvised.
“We shot in one take, no cuts, two cameras …” she says. (This, too, is in keeping with contemporary horror films, and in particular, the 2011 movie Silent House, which was marketed as a movie that was shot in one, long continuous take, although star Elizabeth Olsen eventually admitted the movie was made in a series of 12-minute-long takes. If something went wrong during a take, the entire 12 minutes had to be shot again.)
Rosteet described the filmmaking as “therapeutic.” “Out of the destruction came ingenuity, honest emotion and documentation,” she says. She advises students entering films in similar competitions to “have fun and not to think about it too much.”
In the second St. Louis film, A Novel Idea, four of a group of five students make up the plots of four different novels and then present oral book reviews of these imaginary books to their English class. This film also relied on improvisation, with Austin stating, “sometimes no preparation is the best preparation.” She called the made-up book reports “impromptu imaginational brainstorms” and said they were “exercises in dare-to-be-stupidness.”
A still from the film shows four students wearing school clothing and COVID masks, standing around talking.
The director of A Novel Idea was Austin’s daughter Kaia, a junior who enjoys liberal arts and sees herself pursuing a line of study in mass communications. She likes working with the software used to make films and videos.
A Novel Idea fell into Film Prize Junior’s comedy category, while Kreepshō Krüe, was entered in the sci-fi/thriller category.
St. Louis High’s Media Arts course is open to both juniors and seniors; that means that Kaia and Rosteet can take it for a second year.
Instructor Austin hopes to eventually have the class prepare commercials for local businesses in exchange for donations.
A total of 68 short films from 37 schools were submitted by Louisiana students for the Shreveport competition. Students who worked on the films in some capacity numbered 650.
If you go to filmprizejr.com, you can see a still from each film submitted by each junior high and high school. For the competition, online viewers could watch any films in the competition as many times as they liked, then vote for their three favorites. This year, the Film Prize Junior competition was entirely virtual because of COVID-19 limitations. The St. Louis Media Arts group worked hard at promoting its two films on social media in order to garner as many online votes as possible. The Media Arts students also designed two posters for the films.
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Lake Charles’ Gallery by the Lake, is hosting its third “Hit Me with your Best Shot” Bird Photography Competition and Exhibition. The purpose of the show is to celebrate birdwatching and showcase the work of wildlife photographers from across the U.S.
Starting on August 20, the 50 photographs that the judges designate as the best will be displayed in the Gallery by the Lake’s exhibition space in the Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center in downtown Lake Charles and in a virtual gallery at gallerybythelake.org.
The judges for the competition will be the editorial staff of Bird Watchers Digest.
Entries will be accepted online through July 17; visit artist.callforentry.org/festivals_unique_info.php?ID=8873. The winning images will be selected by June 15. You can learn more by visiting the Gallery by the Lake’s website at gallerybythelake.org. Or call (337) 842-6820.
Gallery by the Lake is a non-profit organization whose members are artists living in the SWLA and Southeast Texas region. In addition to regular exhibits, it offers Saturday art classes.
Meet Leonardo da Vinci
The Westlake High School Theatre Department, which is under the direction of Kerry A. Onxley, will perform for the 2021 Arts Walk in Lake Charles on Saturday, May 8 from 4 to 7 pm.
For this event, Onxley wrote a play that features conversations with four major creative figures as well as the model for the famous painting Mona Lisa. These five figures will be portrayed by the following actors:
• Leonardo da Vinci by Kristopher Reeves,
• Jackson Pollock by Tamirica Mitchell,
• Michelangelo by Catie Rougeou,
• Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Peggy Leichliter,
• Mozart by Destiny Lemen and
• Mona Lisa by Emma Burk.
The Westlake High performance will take place at the Corner Market at the intersection of Ryan and Broad Streets in downtown Lake Charles. The event is presented by the Arts & Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana.