Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association Welcomes New Program Manager to Launch National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read

January 25, 2022 — Orange County, CA — The Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) welcomes Viet Vu as its new Program Manager. Vu will oversee the nonprofit’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read Program, focusing on Caldecott Honor winner Thi Bui’s award-winning graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do.

VAALA is one of 61 organizations nationwide to receive a 2021-2022 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery across audiences through a variety of books that reflect many different voices and perspectives. Vu will execute and facilitate program components specified by the grant. With experience across multiple academic, research, and public libraries, Vu has cultivated meaningful relationships with donors, volunteers, and local leaders. Vu will contribute to the overall program strategy and content development, including event logistics, artist features, and community partnerships. His primary goal will be to provide quality events that align with VAALA’s and NEA’s respective values that broadly appeal to Orange County’s diverse populations.

Themes and perspectives in Bui’s graphic memoir will be used to host a series of events for its NEA Big Read program, including a kickoff film screening/author talk, book club discussions, art workshops, a public art exhibition, and National Listening Week. The Best We Could Do shares Bui’s family history as refugees to navigate the Vietnam War and its impact on understanding and reconciling their past, present, and future. Bui offers personal insight into the grief for a war-torn country and hope for a new future that resonates across many within the Vietnamese and larger Southeast Asian diaspora. The Best We Could Do will be enjoyed by VAALA’s multi-generational audience for expanding immigrant and refugee identities and experiences beyond stereotypes.

Bui’s book also inspired The Best We Could Do setlist at VAALA’s 12th, first-virtual edition of Viet Film Fest last October. Featured short films included No Crying at the Dinner Table directed by Carol Nguyen, Three Fish directed by Milky Tran, Savory directed by Taylor Jordan, Distant Interiors directed by Truong Phan Kieu Anh, Good News directed by Osric Chau, Nhớ bà (Missing You) directed by Mai Kim Nguyễn, and Trao Đổi Hạnh Phúc (Trading Happiness) directed by Duc Ngo Ngoc. These films allowed audiences to explore themes of imperfect family dynamics and unconditional love. The Center for the Pacific Asian Family (CPAF), an organization committed to building healthy relationships and families within Asian Pacific Islander populations, served as a community partner for the setlist as well.

Additionally, Bui and son, Hien Bui-Stafford, with Pulitzer-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen and son, Ellison Nguyen, presented their co-created children’s book, Chicken of the Sea at Viet Book Fest in 2020. The nonprofit’s inaugural digital program was launched to provide programming amidst the pandemic in 2020. Rated “Very Good” by 95% of attendees surveyed, Viet Book Fest drew 7,700 views on its virtual streaming platforms. By highlighting Vietnamese authors and stories in children’s literature for its first year, Viet Book Fest allowed children, and their families, to engage in storytime and socialize during a period of uncertainty and isolation. VAALA invites audiences to come together and celebrate the arts for its upcoming NEA Big Read program as the pandemic continues. 

Programming is tentatively scheduled pending COVID-19 updates as follows:


  • Book Giveaway: Apply for a free copy of The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
  • Sign up for Gallery Beyond Walls, a free, 3-month art workshop for young artists ages 16-26. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend the workshops consecutively. Currently planned for in-person in Orange County, CA


  • Virtual Book Discussion TBA
  • Month 1 of Gallery Beyond Walls: Oral History and Memoir Writing Workshop


  • Virtual Book Discussion TBA
  • In-Person Book Discussion
  • Month 2 of Gallery Beyond Walls: Mixed Media Arts Workshop
  • National Listening Week – Podcast TBA


  • Virtual Book Discussion TBA
  • In-Person Book Discussion
  • Month 3 of Gallery Beyond Walls: Comic/Zine-Making Workshop


  • Gallery Beyond Walls Art Exhibition

“For 15 years the NEA Big Read has supported opportunities for communities to come together around a book, creating a shared experience that encourages openness and conversations around issues central to our lives,” said Ann Eilers, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We congratulate VAALA for receiving an NEA Big Read grant and look forward to a wide variety of meaningful community events.”


Founded in 1991, the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) is a community-based, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to connect and enrich communities through Vietnamese arts and culture. Follow @VAALAcommunity on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

PR CONTACT: Kary Tran, Communications Specialist,

About Viet Vu
Viet Vu received a B.S. in Biology at UC Riverside and an MLIS from San Jose State University. He’s worked at various branches within the Orange County Public Libraries 32-branch system, such as Palmdale City Library, Huntington Beach Public Library, and Palmdale City Library. His academic and research library experiences include Allergan Research and Development, CSU Fullerton Pollak Library, and Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) Dennis and Leslie Power Library. Viet lives with his three cats and has a new obsession with gardening, both byproducts of the  Covid-19 pandemic. In his free time, Viet enjoys illustration and graphic design, and indulging in comic book art. Most recently, he took an online class in creating comics for risoprinting.

About National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support give Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more.

About Arts Midwest
Arts Midwest believes that creativity has the power to inspire and unite humanity. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest grows, gathers, and invests in creative organizations and communities throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six nonprofit United States Regional Arts Organizations, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 30 years. For more information, visit