Professor Monique Truong winner of the 2020 John Gardner Fiction Book Award

BY Audrey Deng, May 22, 2020

Monique Truong, an adjunct associate professor in the writing program, recently won the 2020 John Gardner Fiction Book Award for her novel The Sweetest Fruits.

Judge Lisa Coll Nicolaou, who selected this year’s award, praised Truong’s book for its immersive quality: “The Sweetest Fruits features a mesmerizing combination of history and fiction, coupled with a story of love and loss. This moving story gives voice to the voiceless and leaves an indelible mark. To read this lush and engaging tale is to cross over into another world, as [Lafcadio] Hearn did over and over himself. The novel offers an unforgettable and moving experience.”

In The Sweetest Fruits, three women, Rosa, Alethea, and Setsu, tell the story of their life with Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a globetrotting Greek-Irish writer best known as the author of America’s first Creole cookbook and for his many volumes about the folklore and ghost stories of Meiji Era Japan. An immigrant thrice over, Hearn is now remembered at best as a keen cultural observer and at worst as a purveyor of exotica.


In a review by Columbia MagazineSweetest Fruits is praised for its portrayal of Hearn. “The portrait of Hearn that emerges is one of a complicated, wounded man searching for a home. And without ever giving him a voice, this thoughtfully crafted, brilliantly researched novel is an intimate look into his strange, storied life.”

Truong graduated from Columbia University’s School of Law in 1995. Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Truong came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. She is a writer based now in Brooklyn, New York. She has written three books, all to great acclaim; The Sweetest Fruits is her third. Her other two books, The Book of Salt and Bitter in the Mouth, were published in 2003 and 2010, respectively.