Even as a refugee child some 40 years ago, Viet Thanh Nguyen remembers loving the books he found everywhere in his first American hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“Some of my earliest memories were of going to the public library and to the book mobile and bringing books home,” says Nguyen, who won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in literature for his debut novel, “The Sympathizer,” and who will take part a Register Book Club program on Tuesday.
“And somehow learning to read in English – it was certainly not something my parents taught me, I must have learned it in public school in some fashion,” he says. “But I learned it very quickly and I grew up immersed in the public library as my home away from home.”
In a story earlier this week we talked with Nguyen about the inspiration behind “The Sympathizer” and “The Refugees,” the just-published follow-up. That piece didn’t explore how Nguyen, 45, first fell in love with the idea of writing, and later figured out how to make that his career alongside his work as a professor of English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California.
To hear Nguyen tell it, as soon as he could read he also wanted to tell his own stories.
“Even from a very early age I had some inspiration to tell stories,” he says. “As I remember, in probably the second grade in San Jose, writing a little book and getting a prize for it from the public library.
“It was probably the earliest seed of thinking, ‘Oh, this is fun.’ And the impulse just grew gradually over the years.”
It was not, however, a goal that his Vietnamese immigrant parents really understood, and so, Nguyen says, he kept quiet about his dream for many years.
“I don’t think I ever came home and said, ‘I’m writing a story,’ or, ‘I’m writing a play,’ as I did, for instance, in high school,” he says. “Those were things I did on my own time, and being a writer was something private to…