Thomas Kane, William Joiner Institute’s Director (L) at the 4th international conference on Vietnamese literature.
What do you think of exchanging literature as a way to improve relations between Vietnam and the US?
I think it is something that we all can be united in our ability to express ourselves and our humanity. And for the US and Vietnam, it’s usually cultural connection is the first one to begin to open up people’s eyes, minds, hearts, and ears to each other to start understanding and be friends again. It’s been very instrumental. It’s not only the written literature, but the music and dance of Vietnam and the travel. Many Americans come to Vietnam now because they are very fascinated by its culture and enthralled by coming here because of the performance today, the inauguration of this wonderful poetry festival, which is absolutely beautiful and very uniting thing. Literature and arts bring countries together and we see our commonality instead of our differences. That’s wonderful to be working in this field instead of in things that are destructive like military and war.
What do you think of the development of Vietnamese literature in recent years?
Well, there have been many wonderful new writers. Women and men writers and poets are coming out of Vietnam. There are classic poets but also a whole new generation of poets with new styles and ways of communicating their language of Vietnamese, the hearts and spirit of Vietnam. But I’m the director of the institute, and I fully support our program using the expressive art and poetry as a way of connecting people together and also learning from each other and healing from the consequences of war and trauma. That is something very valuable. Even though it’s not my specialty, I fully support these programs. We have many people, many esteemed writers and poets there, who know a lot about Vietnamese literature and they’re trying to spread it to the rest of the American population.
What has the William Joiner Institute done to connect Vietnamese and American literature?
Every year we have an annual writers’ workshop where people from the US and other countries come and share their poetry and talk. We have sessions on how to translate and focus a lot on translation of Vietnamese poetry. American poets are translating and working with the Vietnamese to translate their beautiful poetry. We have been doing that for 30 years and have had writers and poets who have been coming to our workshops every year from Vietnam thanks to the Vietnam Writers Association. We have events throughout Boston where our university is which will provide opportunities for the Vietnamese. Just last year we had a big event where they were able to perform music and sing original traditional songs. We didn’t have any dance but we had traditional Vietnamese instruments played in the public form beyond the university for the whole city to be exposed to, and also there’s a reading of Vietnamese poetry with our translators translating into English. So there are a lot of opportunities like that. That would be nice to be able to have some programs that are televised or filmed that show the cooperation between us. They sponsor them to come. Through these programs, we can become connected, friends and learn more about each other’s cultures and comment on humanity where we are all the same. That’s why it’s so tragic that countries and peoples get into wars because it is nonsense to us. We will prevent that. That’s what our institute is about, understanding and bringing people together rather than dividing them through wars and destructive forces. So it’s pleasing to be able to work with the Vietnam Writers Association and partnership as friends and colleagues for the common cause.
What else will the institute do to consolidate relations?
We really want to do much more with Vietnam in the translation of some of the classic works by Nguyen Du and others and work together because the US is a big country with more than 330 million people and we want to introduce the beautiful literature that comes out to Vietnam to our people. We have our own poets but this opens up the world to our people. We are planning to work very closely in the future with Mr. Huu Thinh and the Vietnam Writers Association. We have long lasting, close friendship now built between esteemed American poets and their colleagues - the poets and writers here. So we expect this relationship will continue another 30 years and beyond.
Thank you for granting VOV this interview. That was Thomas Kane, the Director of the William Joiner Institute.