Issue 132 |
Spring 2017

Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction

by Staff

Ploughshares is pleased to present Viet Dinh with the sixth annual Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction for his short story “Lucky Dragon,” which appeared in the Summer 2016 issue guest-edited by novelist Claire Messud and literary critic James Wood. The $1,000 award, given by acclaimed writer and Ploughshares advisory editor Alice Hoffman, honors the best piece of fiction published in the journal during the previous year. “The beauty and passion of [Dinh’s] language is exceptional and the story and characters are unforgettable,” Hoffman said of the winning story. “He creates a world that is brutal and terrifying and marvelous all at once.”

About Viet Dinh and “Lucky Dragon”

Viet Dinh was born in Vietnam and grew up in Colorado. He received his degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Houston and currently teaches at the University of Delaware. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Fellowship, he is the author of After Disasters (Little A Books, 2016) and his short stories have appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, Zoetrope: All-Story, Chicago Review, Fence, Threepenny Review, Five Points, and other journals. He rarely gets seasick.

What inspired “Lucky Dragon?”

“Lucky Dragon” is based on a true event—there actually was a fishing vessel, Lucky Dragon No. 5, that got caught in the fallout of the Bikini Atoll nuclear test. I wanted to blend the story of that boat’s crew with another love of mine: Japanese kaiju movies. Indeed, the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident was later dramatized at the start of the classic film, Godzilla.

What did you discover or grapple with while writing it?

While developing and researching my story, I uncovered two bits of information that helped bring the story into sharper focus.

First, although I had always intended for my fishermen to become beings similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, I discovered the legend of the ningyo, the Japanese mermaid (generally depicted as a hideous creature, as opposed to the seductive monster of Western myth), which gave their transformation a more definite shape. Interesting fact: I learned of the ningyo at the Philadelphia Flower Show, where someone had designed a series of mermaids-of-the-world entirely from flowers. Second, and more important, I came across an article in the book Back to Peace: Reconciliation and Retribution in the Postwar Period (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007) that detailed the reception of the returning Japanese POWs in Japan itself. Upon learning the struggles they faced within their own society, I was able to connect the men’s increasing monstrosity with a metaphor that was both personally and culturally significant.

How does this story fit with the rest of your work?

This story is part of a larger collection that I’m working on, tentatively entitled Mutant Monster Madman Mayhem, which are all “riffs” on various horror movies—everything from Godzilla and Them! to Fatal Attraction and the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I make no secret of my love of horror films—the good, the bad and the ugly.

What else are you working on now?

In addition to the story collection, I’m also at work on a new novel, set in an exotic and foreign locale for me: post-First World War rural Wisconsin. There are no giant radioactive monsters in it. Yet.