AuthorAnthony Veasna So

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So was born in Stockton, Calif., the son of an auto mechanic and a civil servant. His parents had separately fled as teens from the Communist Khmer Rouge’s killing fields in Cambodia, and met in California. Anthony was all American, graduating from Stanford University with dual bachelors degrees in art and English, and then earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Syracuse University. He taught at Syracuse, Colgate, University, and the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland, Calif. So he had a knack for communicating, especially in writing. After a bidding war for his first book, Ecco Press (a subsidiary of HarperCollins) won by paying a six-figure advance. Afterparties: Stories will be published in August. That feat made reporters curious. “You’ll be fine” dealing with them, Mary Karr, one of his professors at Syracuse, told him. “Just wheel yourself out there on a skateboard and open your mouth.” Karr knew he’d be a literary star: “He had so much radical talent.” The New York Times said So wrote “crackling, kinetic and darkly comedic stories.” Dark indeed: some of his stories were illustrated with his parents’ experiences escaping genocide.

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Anthony So. (Photo: Chris Sackes, courtesy of Ecco.)

So was embarrassed when he flunked computer science at Stanford, saying it made him a “grotesque parody of a model minority.” When he went to the New York offices of the literary magazine n+1, “The whole magazine became friends with him that day,” said publisher Mark Krotov. “His mind was firing in all directions. He sent us a bunch of stories, and we published his first one in our next issue. He was very proud that, as he told me later: it was the one his workshop disliked the most.” The New Yorker quickly picked up another of his stories. Sample: “He said marriage is like the show ‘Survivor,’ where you make alliances in order to live longer. He thought ‘Survivor’ was actually the most Khmer thing possible, and he would definitely win it, because the genocide was the best training he could’ve got.” So, who was already working on a second book for his Ecco contract, was found dead in his apartment in San Francisco on December 8; so far, the cause is unknown. “He was poised to make a splash,” said Dana Spiotta, another of his Syracuse professors, “and he would have enjoyed it so much.” So was 28.

From This is True for 13 December 2020