Ky-Phong Tran’s family couldn’t know how influential their final destination would be for him when they fled from war-torn Vietnam. He wasn’t even born yet.
Now, almost 50 years after settling in North Long Beach, Tran is giving back to the community as a teacher and writing about this diverse city in his fiction.
“I’m really proud to be from Long Beach,” Tran said. “It’s such a special, unique and creative place. It really is like 20 cities in one, where there’s a lot happening for such a small place.”
Tran, 47, has been a film and English teacher at Renaissance High School for the Arts for the last eight years while finding time to work on his lifelong project—a collection of short fiction about Vietnamese people during and after the Vietnam War.
That hard work and dedication has earned Tran a national honor, as he’s one of 14 high school educators in the U.S. to be selected for the 2023 Jack Hazard Fellowship by the nonprofit New Literary Project.
“I always see the world through the lens of being a refugee, so I really try to impart on people the difference between a refugee and an immigrant,” Tran said of his work. “Wars don’t end when the bombs stop dropping and guns stop shooting. There’s a huge human cost that comes afterwards.”
The Jack Hazard Fellowship, started in 2022, awards teachers/writers up to $5,000 to help support their artistic endeavors outside the classroom. The New Literary Project invests in students, teachers, readers and authors, and inspires and equips writers across generations.
When Tran was hungry for a new career and challenges about 20 years ago, he wanted to find a job that was flexible enough to allow writing time.
“I also wanted to work with the community where the teachers make a big difference in a students life,” Tran said. “What I’ve seen after 13 years (of teaching) is that creating a culture of learning trumps everything. Unless you create a culture where learning is exciting, interactive and important you can really do the technical skill that comes along with it.”
Tran remembers being inspired to pursue writing when he took Mr. DiMassa’s ninth grade journalism class at Jordan High School. He also attended Mark Twain Elementary, Hughes Middle School, Long Beach Poly High School and UCLA before getting his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. He is almost done with his Associate of Arts degree in film.
Over the last decade, Tran has attended famous writers conferences and retreats across the nation, and he hopes this Jack Hazard Fellowship will open more doors for him to tell his story. Tran also thinks more exposure will help him bring more touring authors to come speak to his students.
“I just want to show them that you can live a life of letters,” Tran said.