Behind The Scenes With Joey Bui

Bui is the author of Lucky Ticket - a collection of stories inspired by her heritage.

Tell me a bit about yourself

I grew up in Melbourne. My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War and raised me in a very Vietnamese household - only Vietnamese spoken at home, Vietnamese food, Vietnamese Buddhism traditions. 

I left Melbourne when I was 18 to study in the UAE, at NYU Abu Dhabi. I just moved to Los Angeles recently for work. I haven't been able to visit home for about 2 years now due to the pandemic and the passenger caps on international arrivals in Australia. I really miss Melbourne!! 

Favourite coffee: I make a black pourover coffee in the morning, and order oat lattes when I'm out.

Tell me a bit about Lucky Ticket and what inspired you to write the book?

Lucky Ticket is a collection principally inspired by my family's background as refugees from the Vietnam War, and also explores commonalities with other immigrant and migration experiences. 

When I first thought about putting a book together, I wasn't sure what it'd be about. But I looked back at what I had written, and everything had something to do with immigration and/or war. 

So I realized I had been drawn to those stories. It may also be because I was so transitory myself in the years that I wrote those stories - living in Abu Dhabi, New York, and Buenos Aires, and with people from allover the world. 

Has your heritage/culture/experience shaped who you are and what you're passionate about? If so, how? 

My Vietnamese heritage, and my family's experience of the Vietnam War and as refugees, are really big parts of who I am. 

I'm always trying to explore and understand it better. I know some refugees don't like sharing their experiences with their children, often because it's too painful and traumatic. I'm lucky that my mum and many other of my relatives are open to talking about it, but it's still hard to navigate. I remember thinking as a kid how hard it was to comprehend that my family had grown up in poverty, and lived through war, starved on a refugee boat and then on a refugee camp, and started over from scratch in Australia... and now they're semi-regular suburban parents who are worried about my grades. How do you put that together?? I'm still trying to figure it out.

Who is the target audience for Lucky Ticket?

I hope that Lucky Ticket could mean something to people of colour growing up in Australia or in other Western countries, and especially to immigrants who are, like my family and I, still trying to process that difficult, strange migration. 

I also hope that it interests people who want to learn more about immigrant experiences.

Given what is currently happening in parts of the world, do you think this is a timely book that could provide some perspective on the lives of displaced people?

I think Lucky Ticket could provide some perspective on the lives of people experiencing displacement right now, in the sense that... so many people suffered horrifically from the Vietnam War and from fleeing Vietnam as refugees. There must be things that we can learn from it. Lucky Ticket was, in part, my way of trying to learn from the legacy of the Vietnam War, and maybe it could help us understand and do better for people who are displaced today. 

For example, Vietnamese refugees for some time were thought of as a faceless mass, as statistics, and I hope that Lucky Ticket helps make those lives more real and tangible and close for readers. Maybe that can carry over to how we think of people displaced today. There's an image of the US withdrawing Kabul that looks strikingly similar to the US withdrawing from Vietnam on the Fall of Saigon.

Who are your inspirations?

Toni Morrison is peerless to me. Some other big inspirations are Nam Le, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Elene Ferrante, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Bernardine Evaristo. I also love C Pam Zhang's debut book How Much of These Hills is Gold.

What are you currently reading now and what is on your reading list?

Like everyone, I'm currently reading Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. I also just read Mindy Kaling’s Nothing Like I Imagined - I love everything she does. 

What advice do you have for all the women out there who are thinking about being a writer?

No matter how unlikely it feels, go for it. Finding an audience in art is always unlikely, you have to embrace that to do it at all. 

January 19, 2023
Shilpa Bhim