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Renison/Arts Professor Vinh Nguyen wins the Polanyi Prize in Literature

Monday, November 20, 2017

Just a few days ago the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) announced that Vinh Nguyen, professor of Diaspora Literatures at Renison University College and of English in the Faculty of Arts, has won the 2017 Polanyi Prize in Literature. This is the second Polanyi Prize awarded to a professor in Arts, following Chris Eliasmith's (Philosophy, Systems Design Engineering, Computer Science) NSERC Polanyi Prize two years ago.

Refugees make up a rich part of the fabric of Canada’s history, and Dr. Nguyen’s research project explores the shared historical and political connections between three separate refugee waves in the post-War era.

Vinh NguyenDr. Nguyen is interviewing recent refuges from Syria, Vietnamese who fled here after 1975, and survivors of the third major wave of Mennonite immigration to Canada during and after the Second World War. His aim in listening to their stories is to understand their shared experiences and to dispel myths that refugees tend to be apolitical and passive.

Himself a refugee from Vietnam via a Thai refugee camp, Dr. Vinh says he is looking to document affiliations between refugees groups that have traditionally gone unreported. For example, Vietnamese refugees in Toronto advocated on behalf of recent Syrian refuges and also sponsored them, while Mennonites stepped up to support Vietnamese during their wave of migration in the seventies and eighties. In looking at different refugee groups, he hopes to reveal the forces that underlie war, migration, and humanitarianism.

Refugees are rarely helpless and pitiable, says Dr. Nguyen; on the contrary, his project aims to show how their experiences drive them to become caring, compassionate and politically engaged Canadians.

Each year, the Government of Ontario awards a prize of $20,000 to five young researchers who are carrying out exceptional work in the areas of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Literature and Economic Science.

The Prizes, which this year celebrate their 30th anniversary, were established by the provincial government in honour of the achievement of John Charles Polanyi, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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