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A piece of the Emirates Literature Festival at Curtin Dubai 

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Fostering Cultural Connections Through Literature and Language with Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai 

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai joined the Curtin Dubai community on Friday, 2 February as a guest speaker. She shared insights into her literary works and facilitated a cultural exchange through language and poetry. Attendees gained a deeper understanding of Vietnamese culture and the intricate nuances of the Vietnamese language during this session. Dr Mai flew in from Vietnam as an esteemed speaker at the Emirates LitFest 2024, and took time out of her schedule to visit Curtin Dubai’s campus to engage the Curtin community and leave them inspired.

She shared the plots of the two books she has written, ‘Dust Child’ and ‘The Mountains Sing’. Her books show the world a different view of Vietnam and their women. This was one of her main objectives. Dehumanisation is one of the weapons of war, which is why her books speak from different characters’ points of view to bring back some humanity to the people.

Dr Quế Mai’s interactive session included a short and fun lesson on Vietnamese letters and words, where she meticulously explained the significance of different accent marks, highlighting their role in distinguishing meanings. Her dedication to promoting cultural understanding was further evident as she sang a small Vietnamese poetry piece, demonstrating the melodic nature of Vietnamese literature. In her discussion on the challenges of writing about trauma, Dr Quế Mai provided valuable insights into her creative process. Recognising the cultural tendency to conceal trauma, she emphasised her commitment to depicting life’s hardships and joys.

Dr Quế Mai’s journey as a writer was marked by a commitment to authenticity and complexity in character development. She candidly shared her initial struggles with crafting fully realised characters, acknowledging that it took time to imbue them with depth and authenticity. Through her perseverance, she successfully created characters that resonated with readers profoundly. She also revealed her deep personal connection to her characters, seeing fragments of herself mirrored in their experiences of trauma and loss. This empathetic approach to storytelling underscores her belief in the universality of human emotions, transcending cultural boundaries and fostering empathy.

When asked how she deals with trauma, she responded, “The best way to cope is to do something about the issue, for example, raise funds, do advocacy, talk with people, and build a community. The situation is hard, but it makes us realise how lucky we are to have food, water, and electricity and not be worried about physical safety. We should learn gratitude from what we see.”

Her advice to anyone wishing to write professionally is this, “Write what’s important to you and not with the intention of selling the book. When it’s important, it will keep that fire burning as you write. Have patience. Give yourself a few years to find an agent. You just go on and do your art, and one day, the world will take notice.”

Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s visit left an indelible impression on the audience, fostering a deeper appreciation for the power of literature that goes beyond cultural divides and cultivates empathy. Through her passionate advocacy, she exemplified the transformative potential of storytelling to bridge cultures and foster understanding in an increasingly interconnected world.

To learn more about her, visit Dr Mai’s website:

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