Vũ Khắc Khoan

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Born in 1917, Vũ Khắc Khoan was even older than Cù Huy Cận (1919-2005), who also studied at the College of Agriculture and Forestry (l’École Supérieure d’Agriculture et de Sylviculture de l’Indochine) in Hanoi. However, while Huy Cận had very soon enjoyed his fame in the pre-war era with the debut Lửa Thiêng (or Sacred Fire, 1940), only after 1954 did Vũ Khắc Khoan become well-known as a writer, or, more specifically, a journalist-playwright-lecturer hyphenate. It is because Vũ Khắc Khoan started out quite late, at the age of 30-something; this associates him with his like-minded fellows Mặc Đỗ (1917-2015) and Nghiêm Xuân Hồng (1920-2000). 

What he did before 1954 is still much of a puzzle to me, although many sources report that he mainly worked as a teacher at Chu Văn An high school, formerly known as Lycée du Protectorate or trường Bưởi, and at Nguyễn Trãi high school, or École Normal Supérieure Đỗ Hữu Vị. By 1954, when these two schools were relocated to Saigon, Vũ Khắc Khoan, who at a time had joined the waves of immigrants from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, continued to teach there. Besides, he worked as the lecturer at the Faculty of Letters, Saigon University, and many other universities and colleges: Đà Lạt, Vạn Hạnh, Huế, Tri Hành, to name but a few. As a lecturer, Vũ Khắc Khoan received a lot of love and respect from his students, evident in the tribute articles published at Gió O.

Also, from 1954, Vũ Khắc Khoan wrote for the daily Tự Do (Liberty) and co-founded the weekly Quan Điểm (Perspective) with Mặc Đỗ and Nghiêm Xuân Hồng. Then, in April 1967, together with Mai Thảo, he started the monthly Vấn Đề (Issue), headquartered at 38 Phạm Ngũ Lão, the same building as the weekly Tuổi Ngọc by Duyên Anh and the magazine Văn by Nguyễn Đình Vượng. Vấn Đề lasted for five years before being permanently suspended in 1972 without any clear explanation. Although this newspaper was not really influential, it actually earned a reputation for quality and professionalism.

Compared with his contemporaries, Vũ Khắc Khoan is not a prolific writer, though he is able to write different genres ranging from short stories and essays to poems and dramas. Regardless of the newspaper articles, his oeuvre reportedly includes less than 20 works, most of which are plays. Vũ Khắc Khoan spent a large part of his career engaging in dramatic activities. During the period of 1948-1954, he founded Hoa Quỳnh kịch xã with Phan Tại, and also worked for Sông Hồng kịch xã. He was delegated to be headmaster of the Faculty of Dramatics at Saigon’s National Music and Dramatics School and had given dramatic lectures at various universities in South Vietnam. Notably, two of his students are the director-actor Lê Cung Bắc and the playwright Phạm Thùy Nhân. 

On 30 April 1975, Vũ Khắc Khoan and his family emigrated from Vietnam and then settled in Minnesota. Right here, he and his American friends translated and staged the two plays: Thành Cát Tư Hãn (Genghis Khan) and Ngộ Nhận (Mistaken) at the Theater in Around next to the University of Minnesota. Within two years 76-77, he worked as a teaching assistant in French literature at University of Minnesota, and then from 1979 to 1983, he was elected to be the president of the Buddhist Association of the Vietnamese diaspora in Minnesota. Vũ Khắc Khoan passed away on 12 September 1986, but he is still remembered to this day as one of the great contributors to Vietnamese dramatics, alongside Vi Huyền Đắc, Đoàn Phú Tứ, Vũ Đình Long, Hoàng Cầm, Hoàng Như Mai, Nguyễn Huy Tưởng, Lưu Quang Vũ, and so on.

Bibliography

The complete oeuvre of Vũ Khắc Khoan might not be limited to the following works. However, I still believe embracing this far-from-perfect list is the necessary first step to understand the writing career of the writer.

Theatre Scripts
Thằng Cuội ngồi gốc cây đa (1948)
Hậu trường (1949)
Giao thừa (1949)
Thành Cát Tư Hãn (1961)
Ngộ nhận (1969)
Những người không chịu chết (1972)

Other publications
Thần Tháp Rùa (1957)
Giấc mơ Hương Cảng (1971)
Tìm hiểu sân khấu chèo (1974)
Vở chèo Quan Âm Thị Kính (1974)
Đọc kinh (1990)
Đoản văn xa nước (1995)

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