Childhood & Early Life
Monique Truong was born on May 13, 1968 in Saigon, South Vietnam. At the time of her birth, Vietnam was going through a rough phase with the Vietnam War at its peak.
At the age of six, young Truong along with her mother moved to United States as refugee. Her father, who was working as an executive with an international oil company, stayed behind but not for long. As soon as Saigon was defeated by the communist forces, he too left for USA.
The family briefly lived in the relocation camp in California, before moving over to North Carolina where they stayed for four years. They then shifted to Kettering in Ohio for another four years before finally settling down at Houston in Texas.
Young Truong completed her elementary studies from a high school in Houston, Texas. She later enrolled at the Yale University for undergraduate studies. In 1990, she attained Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
It was while at Yale University that Truong first realized her passion for writing. However, she continued with her studies and went on to acquire a degree from Columbia Law School.
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Truong commenced her career as a litigation associate in a private law firm. However, she soon realized that law wasn’t meant for her as writing was her true love.
It was a poetry reading by Barbara Tran in New York that re-ignited her passion for writing and gave her the push she long wanted. Such was the effect of the reading session that she gave her legal profession a backseat and took to writing seriously.
She collaborated with Barbara Tran, co-founder of Asian American Writer’s Workshop (AAWW) for an anthology that the latter was working on. The result was ‘Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose’ published in 1998 by AAWW.
It was while working on ‘Watermark’ that Truong submitted a story written by her, during college days, for an inclusion. However, the same was rejected. Undeterred, she started penning yet another story that eventually formed the second chapter of her blockbuster maiden novel, ‘The Book of Salt’.
Since juggling with legal practice and writing a book proved to be quite hectic for Truong, she took two months leave from office to concentrate on her book. On the suggestion of a ‘Watermark’ co-editor, she applied for a Van Lier fellowship which allowed her cash grant that took care of her rent, daily expenses and school loans.
In 2003, Truong released her very first novel, ‘The Book of Salt’. The book centred on a fictional gay Vietnamese cook, Binh and his dilemma as to whether to relocate with his employers, whom he had been serving since long, to United States or stay back in Paris or move to his hometown in Vietnam.
‘The Book of Salt’ was a sensational success with the public. Not only did it become a national bestseller, but went on to receive numerous prestigious awards, including New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.
Post the flattering success of ‘The Book of Salt’, Truong took to writing professionally. However, she did occasionally turn to law practice as it gave her the financial freedom that many authors and writers lacked and allowed her to pay her bills and rent.
Her second novel, ‘Bitter in the Mouth’ was released in August 2010 by Random House publications. It was a stark contrast from her first novel as it centred more on her early life in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. The protagonist, Linda Hammerrick, suffered from synesthesia, a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the other.
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‘Bitter in the Mouth’ was closer to the life of Truong as it, in more ways than one, reminded her of the difficult period of childhood that she went through, after relocation to US. The difficulty of getting accustomed to a new environment, learning a new language and being a part of a new culture is portrayed through the character of Hammerrick.
Other than penning books, Truong wrote for the monthly online food column, ‘Ravenous’ for the New York Times T’Magazine. She has also penned articles for other publications including Real Simple, Town & Country, Condé Nast Traveler, Allure, Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, the Times of London (Saturday Magazine) and Time Magazine (Asia edition).
She has been included as a prominent member of the Board of the Authors Guild, the Creative Advisory Council for Hedgebrook, the Bogliasco Fellowship Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Committee of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network.
Over the years, she has been the writer-in-residence for numerous foundations including, Akrai Residency, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Lannan Foundation, Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Ucross Foundation, Sea Change Residency, Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities, Fundacion Valparaiso, Ledig House International Writers’ Residency, and Santa Maddalena Foundation.
Till date, she has served as a PEN/Robert Bingham Fellow in 2004, a Princeton University’s Hodder Fellow for 2007 and 2008 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 2010. She was the inaugural Visiting Writer at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.
Currently, in 2015 she is to serve as a U.S-Japan Creative Artist Fellow in Tokyo. In 2016, she shall be the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College.
Awards & Achievements
Truong’s very first work, ‘The Book of Salt’ was a massive hit and earned her numerous awards including, New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, the Bard Fiction Prize, a Stonewall Book Award-Barvara Gittings Literature Award, PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles National Literary Award, Association for Asian American Studies Poetry/Prose Award, and Seventh Annual Asian American Literary Award.
Her second book ‘Bitter in the Mouth’ was named in the list of 25 Best Fiction Books of 2010 by Barnes & Noble, 10 Best Fiction Books of 2010 by Hudson Booksellers, and the adult fiction Honor Book by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.