A Letter from Nam Le

Letter Nam Le October 1, 2013

Dear Fellow Reader,

In 2006 I received an unexpected e-mail from Brigid Hughes at A Public Space. She’d read a story of mine, she said, and she wondered whether it was available for her (as yet unlaunched) magazine. Her e-mail caught me at a low point in my life: I’d been away from home for almost two years, having burned my bridges with my legal career, and—more dispiritingly for me—having announced to my family and friends that I was going abroad to be “a writer.” Eighteen months later, I’d written hundreds of thousands of words and yet I felt the furthest I’d ever been from any viable conception of a writing life. I believe that the condition of writing is failure. I believe that the most meaningful ideas and experiences reject articulation, that communication is inherently incomplete, that most literature, most of the time, is met—if not with disdain—then with indifference or apathy. (In my case it didn’t help, with the last, that I’d chosen the short-story form!) Yet though writing requires you go into yourself, every now and then you need to be brought back out into the world—and, yes, you need to feel welcomed there.

My story Cartagena was published in the second issue of A Public Space. It went on—in an attestation of the magazine’s reach—to attract inquiries from agents and publishers, and to win a Pushcart Prize. But more important to me was the simple fact of it being published. You don’t forget your first time, and the first time I saw my words, typeset and laid out, against that distinctive APS stock, bound into book form, my reaction wasn’t, as I’d expected, euphoria—but sobriety. As though suddenly the seriousness of the enterprise, the smallness of my start—but the sheer undeniability of it—was brought home to me. I was really in it now.

I’ve been tremendously lucky in my writing life. Most of all, I’ve been lucky to receive the support I have, from all quarters. I don’t care what anyone says—you can’t make it in this gig alone. And for giving me my start, I can’t begin to describe the debt I feel to A Public Space.

Over its short life I’ve seen it introduce the powerful, original work of writers such as Leslie Jamison, Maile Chapman, Corinna Vallianatos, and Keith Lee Morris. As long as it exists, I know it will continue to honor this responsibility. And I envy those writers who have yet to meet with the same sobering disbelief as I did: that there remains room for their voices, that someone might pay them for their words, stick them on the same pages alongside words by writers such as Charles D’Ambrosio and Marilynne Robinson, then shuttle those words to unpaid strangers and distant shelves. They don’t know what they’re in for.

I do hope you’ll consider supporting A Public Space (and other independent magazines like it).

Yours truly,

Nam Le


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Nam Le was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. A recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he also has a story in the summer issue of Zoetrope: All-Story.​

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