Names for Light traverses time and memory to weigh three generations of a family’s history against a painful inheritance of postcolonial violence and racism. In spare, lyric paragraphs framed by white space, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint explores home, belonging, and identity by revisiting the cities in which her parents and grandparents lived. As she makes inquiries into their stories, she intertwines oral narratives with the official and mythic histories of Myanmar. But while her family’s stories move into the present, her own story—that of a writer seeking to understand who she is—moves into the past, until both converge at the end of the book.
Winner of the 2018 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and a finalist for the 2022 PEN Open Book Award, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint's second book Names for Light: A Family History has garnered much attention — including praise from fellow MFA program alum Lily Hoang ('06) who compares the author's work to "luminous ghosts: opulent and ruthless and profound, like drowned sapphires waiting to be reunited with the wind." Names for Light has also been praised by authors Selah Saterstrom ("Here, past and present converge, creating a brilliance that lights up the limits of what can be known") and Janice Lee ("Myint is one of the most remarkable writers of our time, and Names of Light is a piercing and heartbreaking revelation"). Identifying Names for Light as one of the best nonfiction titles of 2021, the editors of Kirkus interviewed Myint, asking her to share some thoughts on her ideal reader.
"Any reader who is willing to put aside—or at least, be aware of—the assumptions and expectations that they bring to a text is my ideal reader," writes Myint. "I think too often writers of color and other marked or marginalized writers are expected to 'sell' their marked identity—i.e., 'read this book if you want to know what it’s like to be brown/queer/poor/etc.' My hope is that readers (even those who wanted a straightforward, educational memoir) will come away from Names for Light with an expanded notion of identity."
Myint also served as the 2022 judge for the Notre Dame Creative Writing Program's annual Nicholas Sparks Prize Fellowship. She selected Austyn Wohlers ('22) as the winner, writing:
"The climatic, or crisis moment in what I read of Hothouse Bloom hinges not on action, or speech, or even thought, but on a radical attempt to nonverbalize experience, to discard language. Radical, on the part of the protagonist, Alessandra, but even more so on the part of the author, who has to give language to what language cannot touch. Hothouse Bloom begins inside a fog, 'opaque and thistle gray,' and though this fog, in which violence may or may not have occurred, eventually lifts, its memory lingers throughout the novel—quietly, calmly, and uneasily. The narration—with its short, declarative sentences and precise, clean metaphors—recedes into and emerges from view, like breath rising and falling, like Alessandra herself, as she merges and separates from the orchard, which is both a physical site, and a state of consciousness. I had the impression reading this novel that I was viewing an impressionist painting, or occupying the liminal state between sleep and wakefulness. I did not want to break my gaze, or to wake up."
As part of the December installment of Literatures of Annihilation, Exile, and Resistance, Myint most recently participated in a conversation with Orlando White and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi called "Writing Names and Ancestors."
Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint is the author of a novel, The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, a Haven (Noemi Press, 2018), which won an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a book of creative nonfiction, Names for Light: A Family History (Graywolf Press, 2021), which was the winner of the 2018 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, and was named one of Kirkus Review’s best books of 2021, and was a finalist for the 2022 PEN Open Book Award. A former Fulbright fellow, she holds a BA in literary arts from Brown University, an MFA in prose from the University of Notre Dame, and a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Denver. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.