Ocean Vuong

Award-winning Poet
Political Commentator & Essayist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Ocean Vuong

“What a treasure Ocean Vuong is to us. What a perfume he’s crushed and rendered of his heart and soul.”—Li-Young Lee

“Reading Vuong is like watching a fish move: he manages the varied currents of English with muscled intuition….His lines are both long and short, his pose narrative and lyric, his diction formal and insouciant. From the outside, Vuong has fashioned a poetry of inclusion.” — The New Yorker

“Vuong writes as an immigrant and as a gay man, and his poems capture what it means to be an outsider and the brutal history of prejudice in America, where ‘trees know/ the weight of history.’” —The New York Times

“Like this very body I possess, the act of writing is, to me, just a means of translation, a place to store the soul.” —Ocean Vuong

Poet and editor Ocean Vuong is the author of the Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), winner of the 2016 Whiting Award, and two chapbooks: No (YesYes, 2013) and Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010), which was an Over the Rainbow selection by the American Library Association. Night Sky With Exit Wounds is a deeply moving poetry collection that weaves his personal stories of growing up with his family memories of life in Vietnam. The Whiting Award judges citation praised both Vuong and the collection saying: “This original, sprightly wordsmith of tumbling pulsing phrases pushes poetry to a new level.” and: “Visceral, tender and lyrical, fleet and agile, these poems unflinchingly face the legacies of violence and cultural displacement but they also assume a position of wonder before the world.” In an NPR interview Vuong said, “It feels quintessentially very American to me to be an inheritor of war. My life and my poems try to investigate that intersection of what it means to be an American body born out of violence, making sense out of violence.” No addresses issues of race, family, and sexuality, populating a new mythology in his poems to clarify both the violences and the triumphs of coming of age through a haze of dissonance and grief, while the poems of Burnings explore refugee culture, be the speaker a literal refugee from a torn homeland, or a refugee from his own skin, burning with the heat of awakening eroticism.

In 2014, Vuong was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He received a Whiting Award in 2016. He has also received honors and awards from Poets House, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, a Pushcart Prize, and a Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Poetry Prize.

His poetry and fiction have been featured in Kenyon Review, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets.

His work has been translated into Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, French, Italian, Hindi, Spanish, and Ukrainian.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean resides in New York City.

Ocean Vuong is the author of Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), winner of the 2016 Whiting Award. Vuong also has two chapbooks: No (YesYes, 2013) and Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010). A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, Ocean has received honors and awards from Poets House, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, and a Pushcart Prize.  


“Terrifying, heartbreaking, surreal, and lyrical–I’m not quite sure how a poet can fit so much humanity into so few words. Ocean Vuong creates and poses alternate universes within these poems. He stands at the feet of American poetry and unties the masters’ shoelaces. Night Sky With Exit Wounds is a must read and re-read, a book that will be cherished.” — Lambda Literary Review

“This book is a masterpiece that captures, with elegance, the raw sorrows and joys of human existence.”—Buzzfeed

Ocean Vuong’s first full-length collection aims straight for the perennial “big”—and very human—subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, war, and melancholia. None of these he allows to overwhelm his spirit or his poems, which demonstrate, through breath and cadence and unrepentant enthrallment, that a gentle palm on a chest can calm the fiercest hungers. Publishers Weekly wrote: “In his impressive debut collection, Vuong writes beauty into—and culls from—individual, familial, and historical traumas. Vuong exists as both observer and observed throughout the book as he explores deeply personal themes such as poverty, depression, queer sexuality, domestic abuse, and the various forms of violence inflicted on his family during the Vietnam War. Poems float and strike in equal measure as the poet strives to transform pain into clarity.”

NO (Chapbook, 2013)

By turns surreal and earthbound, lucid and dreaming, Ocean Voung’s collection No travels backward through time and consciousness. His grounding mechanisms illuminate memory in the contexts of seasons and journeys both short and long. Vuong addresses issues of race, family, and sexuality, populating a new mythology in his poems to clarify both the violences and the triumphs of coming of age through a haze of dissonance and grief. Lee Ann Roripaugh writes: “Ravishing devastation, an exquisite apocalypse, and the sacred catastrophes of the body inform Ocean Vuong’s No. Here, the language of grief is momentarily regenerative—almost, but never quite, returning the illusory flicker of someone beloved lost too soon. Called forth again and again within the ache and arch of each poem, the intensity of that terrible evanescence becomes a gorgeous, scorching afterimage of beauty and ruin, rising in flame and falling to ash. Part failed séance, part Orphic song calling back what is lost only to lose it all over again, the poems in No say yes to the sizzle and pyre of the aching phantom limb, to the hour of joy before the body’s inevitable unraveling, to repeatedly surrendering to that irrevocable moment of loss as recuperative paean and haunted elegy for that which is and can be no more.”

BURNINGS (Chapbook, 2010)

“Vuong’s masterful poetry is something any literary enthusiast should experience. His poems share a worldly sadness that paradoxically recalls the joyful magic that can spring forth unexpectedly in life.” —Lantern Review

“I was born because someone was starving…” ends one of Ocean Vuong’s poems, and in that poem, as in every other of his poems, Ocean manages to imbue the desperation of his being alive, with a savage beauty. It is not just that Ocean can render pain as a kind of loveliness, but that his poetic line will not let you forget the hurt or the garish brilliance of your triumph; will not let you look away. These poems shatter us detail by detail because Ocean leaves nothing unturned, because every lived thing in his poems demands to be fed by you; to nourish you in turn. You will not leave these poems dissatisfied. They will fill you utterly.” —Roger Bonair-Agard

Read “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” by Ocean Vuong – The New Yorker

• Read “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong – Poetry Foundation


Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where he left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to see how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. The neck’s
bruising. I turn him over. To face

it. The cathedral in his sea-black eyes.
The face not mine but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers goodnight:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own and begin
the faithful work of drowning.