Queer Asian author Anthony Veasna So wins posthumous LGBTQ Triangle Award for 'Afterparties'

The Associated Press
Anthony Veasna So, author of the story collection "Afterparties," became the first posthumous winner of the Triangle Award for best LGBTQ fiction on May 11, 2022.

NEW YORK — Robert Jones Jr.'s historical novel "The Prophets" and Anthony Veasna So's posthumous debut story collection "Afterparties" are among the winners of the 34th annual Triangle Awards, given for outstanding LGBTQ literature.

So, who died suddenly in 2020 at age 28, became the first posthumous winner of the Triangle honor for best LGBTQ fiction. Jones' novel, which imagines a love affair between two enslaved Black men, was named the outstanding debut fiction book.

Other winners announced Wednesday include Ari Banias' "A Symmetry" for best trans and gender-variant literature, Cheryl Boyce Taylor's "Mama Phife Represents" for best lesbian poetry and John Keene's "Punks" for best gay poetry. Brian Broome's "Punch Me Up to the Gods" was cited for best gay nonfiction, and "Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought," edited by Briona Simone Jones, won for best lesbian nonfiction.

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A native of Stockton, California, who had settled in San Francisco, So once described himself as a “queer boy, a Khmer-American son of former refugees, a failed computer scientist, a grotesque parody of the model minority, and a graduate of Stanford University.” In “Afterparties,” So drew upon the tragedies his family endured in Cambodia during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and his own struggles with sexual and cultural identity.

So wrote about identity crises in immigrant families without lapsing into worn tropes about assimilation. His narrators are (like So) the descendants of Cambodian immigrants who grew up in California’s Central Valley. They didn’t personally witness the atrocities of Pol Pot’s genocidal '70s regime, but they live with their consequences and strive to escape their parents’ and grandparents’ “concentration-camp surviving eyes.” 

“‘Afterparties’ was one of the first books I acquired for Ecco, and everything about Anthony’s exuberant writing felt new to me — its blazing wit, crackling energy, deep empathy,” tweeted Helen Atsma, So’s editor, in December 2020.

The story collection “Afterparties” by Anthony Veasna So was released Aug. 3, 2021.

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Publishers Weekly reported in early 2020 that So had agreed to a two-book, six-figure deal with Ecco, which prevailed over several other interested publishers. George Saunders, Bryan Washington and Mary Karr are among those who have praised him.

“The mind-frying hilarity of Anthony Veasna So’s first book of fiction settles him as the genius of social satire our age needs now more than ever,” Karr wrote in a blurb for the book. “Few writers can handle firm plot action and wrenching pathos in such elegant prose. This unforgettable new voice is at once poetic and laugh-out-loud funny.”

So taught at several schools, including Syracuse University and Colgate University, and the Oakland-based Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants. According to Ecco, he had been working on a novel “about three Khmer-American cousins — a pansexual rapper, a comedian philosopher, and a hot-headed illustrator.”

And more work by So is coming. In 2023, a second book will collect his nonfiction and parts of an unfinished novel.

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Contributing: The Associated Press; Mark Athitakis, special to USA TODAY