Writing millennial lives at the intersection of queerness, refugeeism and class: Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Ocean Vuong, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize for the poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2017), and lauded debut author of the novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), is the most recently celebrated arrival on the flourishing Vietnamese American literary scene. His texts offer an intersectional poetics in the writing of millennial lives–that of the author as well as proximate lives that have shaped his own.
Vuong offers a personal literary exploration of what it is to be a gay Vietnamese refugee coming of age in working-class America. Yet, he also presents a heterobiography of an intimate entourage made up of Vietnamese and white Americans, both family members and lovers, negotiating queer or diasporic identifications in a changing social class landscape. In light of this, I argue that a re-examination of the question of class sociality appears to characterise the millennial novel (see also Sally Rooney, Normal People, 2018). Rather than focusing on working class exclusion, these texts are exploring interclass relations and their complicated interconnections with other marginalised subjectivities.
In this manner, Vuong makes a timely literary contribution to Intersectional Studies currently anchored in the Human and Social Sciences and tending towards pairings rather than inclusive considerations of the relationships between refugeeism, sexuality and class. The refugee experience of queer subjects is brought to bear in Area Studies and Social Geography for instance (Shakhsari 2020; Wimark 2021), and Cultural Studies interrogate how class politics affect expressions of queerness (Henderson 2013; Taylor 2007; 2009). Vuong, however, introduces queer perspectives to Vietnamese American prose while also making manifest the economic poverty of both the white and expanding multiethnic working classes.
Vuong specifically explores the relationality of these positionalities, avoiding the hierarchies of intersectionality by affording to each a distinct yet interconnected self-hood (Skeggs 2004). His confessional lyric poetry bleeds into the autofictional prose poetry of his novel in the creation of an intersectional poetics that diverts away from an investment in individual identity politics, to animate instead a Foucauldian ‘multiplicity of relationships’ (‘Friendship’, 1981, p. 135).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Edinburgh companion to the millennial novel
EditorsLoïc Bourdeau , Christopher Lloyd
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Vietnamese diaspora
  • Refugee literature
  • Ocean Vuong
  • Queerness
  • Class
  • Vietnamese American Literature


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