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Creating an Anthology Through the Eyes of Women

When senior Katie Fullerton walked into a shop this summer in a Vietnamese section of San Jose, Calif., the white and purple orchids and the various vases caught her eye. So did the Vietnamese woman sitting, waiting for customers. 

As part of a summer project through a Norton Fellowship from Loomis Chaffee, Katie would be talking to this woman and other Vietnamese women about their recollections of the Vietnam War. Katie was nervous. She and the shopkeeper had never met. 

“I just wanted to get her to feel comfortable sharing some details with me that are hard to talk about. At first, she was shy,” Katie says, “but we ended up talking about an hour and a half, and over that time she got more and more comfortable and told me a really sad story about her brother leaving Vietnam. At that point she was holding onto my arms, gripping me. … I could really feel her gripping my arms, and she was crying, and I was crying, too. It was such a powerful and genuine moment, and I don’t think she had talked about it before.” 

The woman was reenacting the day her brother boarded a lifeboat to begin a journey to the United States. “She was saying [to him] ‘You have to go, you have to get out of here,’” Katie recalls. “And it was a sacrifice for her; she wants to be with her brother but knows it is best for him to leave.” 

Katie created an anthology for her Norton Fellowship project, in which she interviewed about 17 women. The fellowships, administered by the Norton Family Center for the Common Good, enable selected students to pursue their interests and become more engaged with their local communities over summer break. Students must apply and, if chosen, each receives up to $1,000 to help complete the project. 

Katie’s mother was born in Vietnam during the war and came to the United States when she was about 7 years old. Katie’s grandfather is of Korean descent and fought for the United States in the war. He met Katie’s grandmother during his tour of duty in Vietnam. 

Katie said her project was inspired by a college-level U.S. history course she took where the students were encouraged to find aspects of events that were not often included in historical accounts. 

She learned “to approach history in an empathetic way, instead of point blank, this is what happened,” she said. “That changed my view of history, and I came to see history as not a linear progression of events but rather a conglomeration of different voices and experiences by people during those events. And the way one person remembers something is different from how another person remembers something because the events are so much more complicated than what is portrayed in textbooks.” 

Accounts of the Vietnam War largely focus on what happened to the soldiers during and after the conflict, she said. But she wanted to learn more about what happened to other people, including women and children. “I also felt a bit disconnected from that part of my identity and wanted to learn more about an event that truly matters, … and I did,” she said. 

Katie said she was grateful for the willingness to share by those she interviewed. She did much of her work in San Jose, about an hour from her home, but through talking with Vietnamese women there, she got contacts for others and wound up talking to people of various ages from all over the United States. 

“I think that made the project more complete with different voices, perspectives, experiences,” she said. 

Katie is interested in creative writing, and before embarking on the Norton Fellowship she spent two weeks in a New York Times summer creative writing program.  

Creating the anthology was a challenge. She tried to balance being factual and creative. “I wanted to make sure I did it in a way that was respectful to the person telling me the story, honoring the integrity of the person and their story but making it into art,” Katie explained. 

She is still deciding how to present her anthology, possibly as an online book or by building a website. 

One piece is called “How to make Pho Ga:”  


- Sweetness: Ginger, Daikon, Yellow onion 

- Earthiness: Ginger, Coriander seeds and fennel seeds, Dried scallops 

- Real Flavor: Fish sauce, Fried shallots, Cilantro, Green onions 

- Substance: Chicken, Chicken broth, Fresh pho noodles  


Dried scallops burning in water, an ocean, an escape 

“Water heals” 

“Water cleans” 

Goodbye dryness 


For just 10 minutes, watch the scallops drown 

Char the onion, char the ginger 

Let them thrash in the yellow sky 

Expose them to radiation, to heat bombs, to man-made fires 

Expose them long enough to burn 

But just on the outside 

Expose them for just 10 minutes 

No one likes burnt food 


Let the herbs mix and mingle  

Soldiers and women, galvanizing in a bowl 

Wanted intimacy to some is unwanted entanglement to others 

One plus the other makes unwanted children 

Who want only to be wanted 

By their country, by their parents, by themselves 


Now it’s time to clean the chicken 

“Water cleans” 

*Hot water cleans 

Drown the chicken in subcritical water 

Drain the water 


Fraternize the herbs only for 1-3 minutes 

Don’t let them get too close 

They’ll stick together though they’re destined apart 

Oceans apart 


Toss them in the broth, the same ocean 

With tides boiling so strong that they’re forced apart 

Divided, excluded, alone 

Convince them that they’re eternally lost souls 

But let them see each other (or at least think they saw each other) every so often  


Add the chicken to the pot where everything goes 

Where burnt vegetables and mixed herbs float 

Where chickens can swim 

And noodles bop around like kelp 

Don’t forget some fish sauce, cause what’s an ocean without fish? 


When the ocean cools and tides simmer, 

Forget about the intertwined herbs and dry scallops 

Forget they once lived 

Just sip and think nothing of it  


Devour your concoction in under 10 minutes 

No one likes cold soup 


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