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"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read."

—James Baldwin (1963)

 

About Sheila Ngọc Phạm

Hi, I’m a writer, editor, producer and scholar working across radio, print, online and screen. I currently live on Dharug land with my husband and two kids. In 2021, I was shortlisted for the Pascall Prize for Arts Criticism, the Hazel Rowley Biography Fellowship, the David TK Wong Fellowship and the Jesse Cox Audio Fellowship.

Currently I am a judge for the 2022 Multicultural NSW Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; Before this, I served twice as a judge for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction. I will also be the judge for the 2022 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award.

I relate to what Elif Shafak describes as having “multiple belongings”, which is reflected in my wide range of affiliations and interests. My curiosity about the world and instinctive rejection of dogma means I can often be found lurking in the borderlands of identities, ideas and disciplines. A fundamental value I hold is the importance of intellectual and artistic freedom, so I’m a big fan of Bertrand Russell’s writing which I read and reflect on when I can.

I'm grateful about all the travelling I’ve done, as well as living in different places too. These many experiences outside of Australia, the country of my birth, have profoundly shaped me. The fact that my parents were refugees who resettled here in 1980 has also deeply influenced my worldview. 

One of my central concerns is the ways in which the past impacts the present, in both the macro sense as well as micro. From one generation to the next. My desire to create and explore is fundamentally rooted in my need to make sense my own family’s fragmented history as well as being a part of the Vietnamese diaspora, which I recently wrote is “one of the great rhetorical questions of my life.” In pursuit of this work, I contribute as an editor of diaCRITICS.org, a project of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network and a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Below you can find out more about my areas of specialisation as well as my languages.

Sheila Ngoc Pham Portrait, Michael Crouch Room, Vietnamese Posters, SL Magazine

 

Photo by Joy Lai for the State Library of NSW.

Bowstrings

Writer
My writing is published in literary publications, such as Sydney Review of Books and Griffith Review, as well as more mainstream outlets, such as the ABC, SBS and New York Times. My writing has also been published in niche magazines and books, such as New Philosopher, Roads&Kingdoms and Lonely Planet. Lately I’ve been venturing into more screen-based writing work; this includes being a storyliner on The Heights as well as contributing to two other scripted series in development. 

Editor
I have worked as an editor in a range of settings, including at the ABC, where I was Editor of ABC Pool. These days my editing work is more literary in nature; I recently co-edited the Vietnam Showcase on Kill Your Darlings as well.

Producer
My producing work focuses on documentary for audio and screen, as well as events. My radio producing has primarily been for Radio National, including a five-part series on multilingualism in Australia with Masako Fukui. My first short documentary, connectIRL, which I co-produced with Vonne Patiag premiered at the Sydney Opera House’s Antidote Festival in 2019.

Scholar
My qualifications include undergraduate degrees in psychology and linguistics, as well as a major in history and philosophy of science. I have masters degrees in both public health and bioethics. I’m currently completing a PhD at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation where my focus is on women’s experiences of gestational diabetes and how online support groups intersect with formal healthcare. I casually lecture in public health ethics at Macquarie University for the Master of Public Health program.

Curator
My curation practice has been primarily focused on talks, such as for TEDx, but recently I curated a small exhibition of Vietnamese traditional art for the State Library of NSW following on from my research into an archive donated by Len Fox and Mona Brand which is held at the Mitchell Library.

Communications consultant
I have more than a decade of direct experience working in communications for a wide range of non-government, government and commercial concerns. My focus is currently elsewhere but I still do a bit of consulting work from time to time and am particularly interested in communications work in public health and healthcare.

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Saigon’s Wartime Beat
Saigon’s Wartime Beat
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Languages & Me

Languages are a big part of my life and always have been. My fascination with language led me to a degree in linguistics as well as travel and many different language courses over time. In addition to the languages I list below, I’ve also taken crash courses in Chinese and Spanish.

Vietnamese is my mother language as my parents are from Vietnam. My current challenge is trying to raise my own kids bilingually in Vietnamese and English. It’s a struggle which is why I recently founded an online community called Vietnamese Bilingual Parenting.

English is my dominant and most fluent language because I was born and raised in Australia. It’s the only language I know how to write in.

French was what I learned a little in high school and since in France, including a wonderful summer in Paris when I was 30. I can’t really speak it these days but can understand and read a little. Even though I have long loved learning French, and still do, I have always felt conflicted learning given the colonial history in Vietnam. But that history is what makes me feel comfortable with it as well.

Thai entered my linguistic repertoire because I lived and worked in Chiang Mai for over a year. I had a Thai tutor who I saw twice a week for private lessons. I can somehow still remember the Thai alphabet and read a little, and hearing it always feels cosy.

Dutch and Italian I both know a little of because I spent a year living in Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy while undertaking an Erasmus Mundus Master of Bioethics. One of the best years of my life, especially as I had the generous support of a European Commission scholarship.

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