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by Abbigale Kernya,

Managing Editor, KBI Inspire Magazine

 Abbigale Kernya, is a third- year University student with a passion for music, art, reading, and film. 

Photo via John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

"Know that life is very rarely stagnant. Know that there is a part of you in everything you’ve touched, and a part of you three years away who will thank you for it."

--- Abbigale Kernya

The saying “great things come to those who least expect it” does not apply in my life to scholarships, job opportunities, romance, or money — rather, when I stumbled upon a passage from Vuong’s 2019 debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in a late-night Pinterest poetry binge.


My life now consists of before I read Ocean Vuong, and after I read Ocean Vuong. This is no joke, I quite literally have an Ocean Vuong shrine on my bookshelf. Vuong has reshaped my life as both a reader, writer, and human. 


His debut novel reached my hands within the week of discovering his work online. At the time, I was mere months into the 2020 lockdown and had just rediscovered my love of reading at seventeen years old. At the time, having taken a serious step back from life as most high school students did in 2020, I was able to give myself space to enjoy literature without pretending “reading was for losers”, as is the common misconception amongst teens.


My bookshelf at the time consisted of dusty Twilight books, a budding Haruki Murakami collection, and an abundance of 2014 dystopian series. This is to say, I was in desperate need to redefine myself as a reader approaching adolescence, rather than who I was as when the main form of ‘literature’ I consumed was Wattpad.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter written to a mother who cannot read it. I’ll spare the overarching details, as OEWBG has already been a subject of my bi-monthly book reviews. (In this issue, Ocean Vuong once again makes an appearance with his first poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds—keeping it on theme for this issue.) 


“I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If, relative to the history of our planet, an individual life is so short, a blink, as they say, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you're born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly.”

--- Ocean Vuong, One Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous 

I remember sitting on my window sill in awe as I read the first page, and in complete anguish when I sat there and closed the last page. In a way, reading Ocean Vuong felt like an awakening, like that final push into what would now become a full-blown obsession with literature. It was the first time I felt the physical ache, the hand-over-heart gut-wrenching connection to anything at all. 


My life began to skyrocket after that moment. I have now resorted to stacking books on my bedroom floor due to lack of shelf and desk space. I’ve started two novels, had poems published, and obsessively refresh Vuong’s Instagram to wait for a release date for his upcoming novel. Discovering Vuong at seventeen has shaped my life in ways unimaginable to that girl on the window sill. Now at twenty years old, I am able to understand why.


It all relates back to the inability to ‘find myself’ as the cliche goes. But in all honesty, it’s true. I had no identity, I had interests I only explored at surface level out of fear of judgment, and bone-deep insecurity. Ocean Vuong very quickly became more than a beloved poet, he became a gateway that allowed me to come into who I am today. It was the first time I could hold something and think, “This is what I want in life.”


After all, I started working for KBI in large part to Vuong’s influence on my life. Though the first book review was not OEWBG, but rather Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, reading Vuong ignited a passion that led me down the path of book reviewer to Youth Editor to podcast co-host — all of which would have been completely out of the question had I not stumbled upon his words late one night. 


On June 13th of last year, I posted to my (now largely inactive) bookstagram story: “His poetry is so real it begins to rot inside of you” over a photo of his poem “Immigrant Haibun” from Night Sky With Exit Wounds. 

"If you must know anything, know that the hardest task is to live only once. That a woman on a sinking ship becomes a life raft--no matter how soft her skin."

--- Ocean Vuong, "Immigrant Haibun"

If you take anything away from this, know that Ocean Vuong has become a metaphor for something much larger than I am willing to share online. Know that life is very rarely stagnant. Know that there is a part of you in everything you’ve touched, and a part of you three years away who will thank you for it.


Find your own Ocean Vuong and tell me what it means to you.

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