Pulitzer Prize-winning author's talk in New York cancelled after he condemns Israel

Viet Thanh Nguyen had earlier signed an open letter calling for the end of 'indiscriminate violence' against Palestinians in Gaza

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen's new book is called A Man of Two Faces. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen says a Jewish organisation in New York City has cancelled a reading he was due to give a day after he signed an open letter condemning Israel's "indiscriminate violence" against Palestinians in Gaza.

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Nguyen, whose novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is currently promoting his new memoir, A Man of Two Faces.

He was due to give his reading at the 92nd Street Y cultural centre on Friday at 8pm, but says he learned at 3pm that the event had been cancelled, without any explanation.

"Their language was 'postponement,' but no reason was given, no other date was offered, and I was never asked. So, in effect, cancellation," Nguyen wrote on Instagram on Saturday.

The event was eventually moved to another location.

"I spoke about my book, yes, but also about how art is silenced in times of war and division because some people only want to see the world as us vs them," Nguyen said.

"But art is one of the things that can keep our minds and hearts open, that can help us see beyond the hatred of war, that can make us understand that we cannot be divided into the human versus the inhuman because we are, all of us, human and inhuman at the same time."

The 92NY describes itself on its website as "a proudly Jewish organisation."

In a statement to Reuters, a representative for 92NY confirmed it postponed the event, citing Nguyen's stance on Israel, as well as the October 7 attack by Hamas and continued holding of hostages, which it said "has absolutely devastated the community".

"Given the public comments by the invited author on Israel and this moment, we felt the responsible course of action was to postpone the event while we take some time to determine how best to use our platform and support the entire 92NY community," the spokesperson said.

In an Instagram post earlier, Nguyen said he had signed an open letter along with other authors because the effect of Israel's policy was the inevitable death of civilians.

"That is wrong and it must stop," he wrote, saying he remained a strong supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement that calls for economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land.

"I hope there is a moral consensus that killing civilians is wrong, whether Hamas does it or whether Israel does it," Nguyen wrote on Instagram, sharing the open letter.

"All sides in a war commit atrocities, and the lure of hatred and vengeance lurks within us all. But there is no doubt that Israel has killed more civilians and Palestinians than vice versa, historically since 1948 and the present. And there is no doubt that when you declare a free fire zone, as Israel has essentially done in Gaza, innocents will die."

The unprecedented attack into southern Israel by Hamas two weeks ago killed 1,400 people, and resulted in Israel imposing a "total siege" of Gaza that has left the enclave's 2.3 million people running out of food, water, medicines and fuel.

Updated: October 22, 2023, 6:35 AM