Vu Tran, arguably the most promising fiction writer in Las Vegas, is leaving this fall to teach creative writing at the University of Chicago. It’s a great gig for Tran, who won a prestigious Whiting Writers’ Award last year as one of the nation’s most talented young writers.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I still can’t believe I’m going to be teaching at the University of Chicago.”
Although the University of Chicago is well known for having served as the academic home of literary legends such as Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom and Norman Maclean, the creative writing program in which Tran will be working is fairly new.
“The creative writing program is a very young and exciting program,” he said. “I’m glad to be going there and to participate in that.” …
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tulsa, Tran picked up a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at the University of Iowa. He came to UNLV as a Schaeffer Fellow in 2003 and earned his Ph.D. over the next three years.
In recent years, Tran has been an adjunct instructor in UNLV’s English Department, living on subsistence wages and no benefits while polishing short stories and beginning a novel. The Whiting award, which included a $50,000 check, helped pay the bills.
“Las Vegas is where I found my footing,” he said. “I started to revise my stories in a kind of rigorous way. . . . When I won the O. Henry prize and got into the anthology [in 2007], I started getting a lot of notice. I felt like my hard work was paying off. I felt finally that I was coming into my own style and I was confident that I had the craft part down.”
Although building a reputation in literary magazines, Tran gained a local fan base through two pieces of writing. Las Vegas Noir, a 2008 anthology of dark crime stories set in Las Vegas, features Tran’s “This or Any Desert,” about a renegade cop tracking down his ex-wife in the underworld of Las Vegas’s Chinatown. The story actually is chapter two of the novel he’s working on.
Tran also wrote the concluding chapter of Restless City, a serial novel project sponsored by the Vegas Valley Book Festival and published by CityLife Books in 2009. He had the daunting challenge of tying up numerous loose ends created by the writers of the novel’s first six chapters. His success drew praise from readers as well as the novel’s other contributors.
Although he’s thrilled by his upcoming move, Tran leaves Las Vegas with mixed emotions. “I’ll miss the unique aspect of being in a city that’s always alive with newness and opportunity and just that silly, unique energy,” he said. “I’ll miss poker. I’ll miss that easy access.” …
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