“All of Vi Khi Nao’s books share a mythopoetic impulse and create together a world in which modes of being and art-making seem suddenly more recognizable in their elaborately evoked never-before-seen-ness.” – Joanna Ruocco, author of Dan

Vi Khi Nao is an interdisciplinary artist who works in multiple and interchangeable mediums. Her drawings have appeared in literary journals such as NOON and The Adirondack Review. Her video, digital, and literary installations have been exhibited at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts in Providence in Rhode Island and in the largest exhibition halls for contemporary art in Europe, Malmö Konsthall, in Sweden. She is the author of six poetry collections: Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019) Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), The Old Philosopher (winner of the Nightboat Prize for 2014), & of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), the novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016).

Her work includes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, performance, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute. Her novel, Swimming With Dead Stars, is out with FC2.

Vi Khi's Featured Titles

War Is Not My Mother

Clash Books |

A series of poetic remixes, WAR IS NOT MY MOTHER might be considered a form of spirit possession. Each poem in this manuscript takes up another poet’s work–a selection that ranges from Lorca to CD Wright, Hồ Xuân Hương to Sappho, Agha Shahid Ali to Ishrat Afreen–and alters its DNA, infusing it with an other idiolect. This is an idiolect of pleasure (the wordplay, puns, and cadence of the Vietnamese language) and of pain (the long shadow of the Vietnam war in the lives of those who survived, barely survived, and became refugees). Like any possessing spirit, WAR IS NOT MY MOTHER speaks in tongues: using others’ words to articulate a personal pain. Shorn of their original context and content, the poems in this collection–mutant-hybrids who retain a trace of their skeleton while dressed in entirely other clothes–become a play of voices that call into question notions of authenticity and self in poetic production, a postmodern twist for the classical craft.

Fish Carcass

Black Sun Lit |

Blending autobiographical truth with poetic invention, Vi Khi Nao’s FISH CARCASS is a pointillist portrait that catalogs a tripartite digestion process of being-in-the-world. Opening with Victuals, sensuous delight cedes to the shock of larger-than-life forces that constrict the everyday in Spasms, where impersonal paroxysms negotiate the personal terrain of biology with a chorus of organs which sing the particular textures of their experience culminating in Corporality. At once polyvocal and joyous, terrified and terrifying, the poems in FISH CARCASS register expression across multiple thresholds, suturing physical, metaphysical, worldly, otherworldly, human, and nonhuman domains to create a cornucopia of potentialities as sprawling as life itself.


Waiting for God

Apocalypse Party |

Two friends wait for god beside an x-ray-cum-time-machine, eating invisible shirts and speaking into their bras like megaphones. They’re joined in their theological vigil by a man named after a vegetable and a narcoleptic goat who just might be god. Welcome to the sixth dimension of time, a place where cartoon physics rules and the stage collapses into the page. Bodies fold into fictions. Samuel Beckett switches places with Sarah Kane. Welcome to Waiting for God, a realm where the laws of literature are superseded by apocrypha’s fever dream.

The Vegas Dilemma

11:11 Press |
Short Stories

The Vegas Dilemma, a collection of twenty-seven short stories, weaves a vision of contemporary America through the eyes of its outcasts. Set largely in Las Vegas, featuring a recurring character of a footloose, morose woman who likes to eat Cheerios in grocery stores, each story takes up quotidian concerns-staying in Starbucks past closing time, a visit to Hoover Dam, falling in love over Instagram-and mines them for their political and existential undercurrents, which fly off the stories like sparks from a pinwheel. A cycle of stories-“Pulverized Oat Wheels,” “Mother Nature is Belligerent”, “Symmetry of Provocation”, etc.-make use of a vignette style to suture seemingly disparate scenarios and emotions. Thus, in “Not Capable of Giving her Leprosy” we meet a sexually exploitative American professor at a South Korean University; a reading group who meet in Starbucks to discuss the ethics of eating meat while reading The Vegetarian; palm trees that are mistaken for armadillos; and Walmart identified as a nerve agent. Other stories, such as “Your Sadness is Salt on Salt” and “In My Youth My Father Is Short and Poor,” use a sparse first-person voice for more poetic effect. Connected by themes of alienation, bad romance, and microaggressions, The Vegas Dilemma combines the inventiveness of fiction and the richness of everyday life to show that such American tragedies as Trump’s ascendency and the Weinstein scandal aren’t divorced from everyday interactions, but arise from them.

Umbilical Hospital

1913 Press |

Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. Film. Art. UMBILICAL HOSPITAL is a poetic ekphrasis of Leslie Thornton’s Sheep Machine, part of her Binocular Series. Filmed in Saas-Fee, it shows a flock of sheep grazing next to the structural support of cable car system. Leslie Thornton views her video installation as film paintings.

Imagine an entity composed of sheep, wheat, assholes, clitorises, stars. Why not? That would be this poem, this world–a perfectly recognizable post-human world which is also post surreal. Vi Khi Nao is making it new, no, she is doing the old job of making us see what’s already here in a new way. We’re already part of the bunny-frog and the sheep machine and we’re feeling fine. This is bold, fresh, necessary work.–Rae Armantrout

In this book–a vision of a vision–to see is to become. To count, or be counted, is to transform. Vi Khi Nao promises her readers to ‘split in half, to spread-eagle, to alter/the delirium of grass.’ Heady, dreamy, painful and acute, the images in these poems recombine to digest, rather than describe, Leslie Thornton’s Sheep Machine. Certainly, one must look at the body from two very different eyes at once for it to become an umbilical hospital.–Sophia Dahlin.

A Bell Curve Is a Pregnant Straight Line

11:11 Press LLC |

A tragic first date. An evicted fetus. A restaurant called Sapphở. The flu. Argiope spiders. A room. The sea. Body parts as clothing. A long poem. A short one. A long one. Flipping like Morse signals, the poems in this collection gather under the pregnant arc of the bell curve in four quadrants that gestate desire. They scatter and sprawl across the page, or shrink in demure bundles, become pen-and-ink drawings, become lists, perform a termite insurrection against style.

The Proscenium

Ugly Duckling Presse |

A woman uses the keys of a dismantled, antique typewriter to write a manuscript. She makes little progress and is able to generate only three letters of the manuscript. The letters are t, h, e, which is the entire word for an article. The Proscenium is a satire on production and feminism and acts as an antithetical or opposition to male’s prolixity on the canvas of literary canon.

Human Tetris

1111 Press LLC |

A cross between the genre of newspaper personals and the self-display of online dating, Human Tetris comprises a series of calls for lovers: whimsical, serious, mournful, thirsty, trite, and true. Written as a collaboration between two very different voices, with each entry addressed not to but through the other, Human Tetris is an obviously personal project that seeks not so much connection as an understanding of the shape of desire.

Sheep Machine

Black Sun Lit |

Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. Film. SHEEP MACHINE is a textual inscape, a poetically painted nonfictional pasture where mechanical violence and visceral fear coalesce into a kind of science prosody, a post-human panorama whose beauty lies in the ruins of reality it depicts. Influenced by Leslie Thornton’s film of sheep feeding in a field as a conveyor belt of cable cars ascend and return from a mountain in the Swiss Alps, Vi Khi Nao takes perception into tumultuous terrains, into a pastoral-celestial void in which temporality is transcended, progress is a bourgeois invention, and god is a liability for our life spent in hunger and grazing. Vi Khi Nao’s SHEEP MACHINE is grace said at the ontological last supper.


A Brief Alphabet of Torture: Stories

F2c |
Short Stories

Like all of Vi Khi Nao’s acclaimed and award-winning work, A Brief Alphabet of Torture bleeds across many modes and genres–poetry, essay, fiction, drama–and itself almost constitutes a novel of a different kind. Each tale captures the emotional, physical, psychological, political, and artistic concerns that pervade life like breath and which, even when very beautiful, are filled with pain.

These stories are all facets of Nao’s imagination that define the way she views creation, sexuality, violence, and the role of life in an ontological system that relies heavily on cultural, social, and artistic duress. Some stories like “Winter Rose” and “I Love You Me Neither” rise above the boundaries of pain to places of beauty and grace and love, where pain has no place, but make clear how rare such moments appear in life.

Fish Exile

Coffee House Press |

Here I was allowed to forget for a while that that is what books aspire to tell, so taken was I by more enthralling and mysterious pleasures. –Carole Maso

How do you bear the death of a child? With fishtanks and jellyfish burials, Persephone’s pomegranate seeds, and affairs with the neighbors. Fish in Exile spins unimaginable loss through classical and magical tumblers, distorting our view so that we can see the contours of a parent’s grief all the more clearly.

The Old Philosopher

Nightboat Books |

The Old Philosopher is enigmatic, sexual, biblical, anachronistic, political, and personal all at once. These quiet, implosive poems inhabit a nonlinear temporality in which Vi Khi Nao brings biblical time and political time together in the same poetic space, allowing current affairs to converse with a more ancient and historical reality.


The Magic of Productivity: How to Write Effortlessly and Quickly


Ekphrasticism as an Antidote to Boredom


The Tennis of Writing: Using Sports as Disciplinary Models for Transforming Rejections


The Cinema of Nonfiction


The Confiscation Technique: Bold, Drastic, Experimental Editing Practices

Classes with Vi Khi Nao

Full Publication List

Vi Khi Nao’s Media

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Lambda Literary’s 2022 Jim Duggins, PhD Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize
Fall 2019 Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute
2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
Nightboat Prize for 2014

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