Here’s something everyone can agree on. For the occasion of his first book, Afterparties, Anthony Veasna So would have loved it all: the interviews, book tour, readings, attention, praise, pans, mythmaking, the opportunity to opine on the treacly queer writers he hates (or at least shade them) and the insufficiency of Asian American identity. He might talk about how he identified as Cambodian American before Asian American and, for that matter, Californian before American, which would have been a way of making space for himself as well as others. Some writers might be tentative about the limelight, but not him. His parents survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, and he survived Stockton, California, so you can be damned sure he’d make every second count.
Everyone could agree, too, that he was ambitious. Anthony was 28 with a plan. He graduated from Stanford and then got his M.F.A. at Syracuse, where he was adored by his teachers: Dana Spiotta and Jonathan Dee and Mary Karr, who would all write glowing blurbs for the back of his book. During his third year, he got a $300,000 two-book deal with Ecco, and he made the bold move of hiring a personal publicist to promote the first. Most important, he had a (roughly) five-book plan: Following Afterparties, a short-story collection that draws from his Khmer American universe in Stockton, would come his debut novel, Straight Thru Cambotown. Then an essay collection called Dreadful Places and two more books, including a novel about the Cambodian singer Pan Ron, whom he had tattooed on his right arm from a sketch he drew himself, paired with a quote from Slaughterhouse-Five: “And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”
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