Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Mong-Lan
By Yong Shu Hoong
Perhaps the book, Tango, Tangoing: Poems & Art, best sums up the multiple interests in life that Mong-Lan enjoys: poetry, visual arts and, of course, dance. Published in 2008, it features her poetry, accompanied by her fluid and sensual drawings of tango dancers. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, she left her country with her family on the last day of Saigon's evacuation in 1975. She grew up in Houston, Texas, where she studied at the Glassell School of Art. She later graduated from the University of Arizona with a Master of Fine Arts. For two years, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Mong-Lan has also lived in cities like Tokyo and Bangkok. Currently she divides her time between the United States and Argentina, and travels sometimes to Asia and Europe. As a poet, she has won a Pushcart Prize, the Juniper Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Awards for Poetry, among other awards. Her poetry has also been nationally and internationally anthologised in publications such as Best American Poetry and The Pushcart Book of Poetry: Best Poems from 30 Years of the Pushcart Prize. Mong-Lan is the author of eight books and chapbooks, which include Song of the Cicadas (2001), Why is the Edge Always Windy? (2005) and One Thousand Minds Brimming (2014). She is also a photographer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer, as well as a dancer and teacher of Argentine tango.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: veer, draw, tango.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. Now that you're living elsewhere, how often do you still dream or think of Vietnam?
I would like to think that the country is evolving, certainly economically, in leaps and bounds, after opening itself to outside investments and international business years ago. With regards to writing and civil liberties, it seems that writers are being censored everywhere in the world, and liberties are being curtailed. When I was last in Vietnam in 2007, giving lectures at universities in Saigon and the Mekong Delta, I did speak to writers, and it seemed that they have to be very careful about what they say with regards to politics, in particular against the government there, or face dire consequences such as imprisonment. In 2003, when I was there on a Fulbright, I was told by writer friends that if three writers get together to give a reading, it was considered a revolution and the police might come. These are writers not in the official writers and poets associations. Just recently, in 2015, I read that the second Asia Pacific Poetry Festival took place in Hanoi – I assume that the Vietnamese writers invited take the official position, but that's a start to international dialogue.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?