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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 16, 2005

UI Alumna Phan Reads From Debut Collection March 3 On WSUI

University of Iowa Writers' Workshop alumna Aimee Phan will read from her debut short-story collection, "We Should Never Meet," at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 3, on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910.

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event at the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Listen on the Internet at http://wsui.uiowa.edu.

Workshop faculty member Chris Offutt wrote, "In gorgeously liquid prose, Aimee Phan gives us deep insight into contemporary Vietnamese-American life."

UI alumnus Robert Olen Butler, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain," was written in the voices of Vietnamese immigrants, commented, "In Aimee Phan's collection of stories, 'We Should Never Meet,' she accomplishes what only a true artist can: She gives voice to the voiceless and makes them speak for us all. This is a thrillingly important book."

Phan explained, "A few years ago, while flipping through a magazine, I came upon a black and white photograph of several Vietnamese toddlers staring out of a Plexiglas airplane window. They were part of Operation Babylift, the emergency evacuation of 2,000 Vietnamese and Amerasian children from Saigon during the last days of the war.

"This reminded me of my mother's job when I was growing up. My mother was a social worker in Little Saigon, California, dealing primarily with Vietnamese foster children. These children, orphans and unaccompanied minors recently arrived from Vietnam, intimidated me. They were older and tougher. They led lives I couldn't understand. I had a permanent, safe home. They did not. These children were the unluckiest of the Vietnamese refugees arriving in America. Not only were they in a new country that was reluctant to accept them, they were without families to support them.

"I wanted to write about them. Their views on two distinctly American ideals, family and country, must have been so loaded due to their personal experiences. I'd always wondered why so many Vietnamese families would send their children to America, only to have them dumped off in government foster care systems. The Babylift, a well-publicized media event, may have found families for their orphans, but those babies were only the beginning. Long after the media frenzy, when adopting a Vietnamese orphan was fashionable, Vietnamese children were still coming to America, and getting lost in the waves of other refugees.

"This pocket of history had long been overshadowed by other accounts of the war, from world leaders to veterans of both sides. While the adults had their say, no one considered these children's stories. These perspectives, during the war and long after it, are important.

"While the book is inspired by historical events, this is a work of fiction. There are many nonfiction resources on Operation Babylift and the boat refugee experience, and everyone has a different perspective. This collection of stories never intends and cannot possibly be the end-all authority on these historical events. Hopefully, this book can introduce, for some readers, a legacy of the war that hadn't before been considered."

Phan, who won a Maytag Fellowship at the UI, now teaches in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work has appeared in periodicals including the Colorado Review, Chelsea, Prairie Schooner and Meridian.

The Writers' Workshop is an academic unit of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu