Ocean Vuong has become the seventh author in the Future Library, an ongoing art project that will see contemporary authors pen a manuscript that will remain sealed until 2114, when they will be opened and printed on the 1,000 trees currently being cultivated outside of Oslo.
The writer and poet is the author of the novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and the TS Eliot prize-winning poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds.
Vuong joins a list of authors that includes Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, Han Kang and Karl Ove Knausgård, all of whom were invited to partake in the project because of their “outstanding contributions to literature and poetry and for their work’s ability to capture the imagination of this and future generations”.
The authors have full control over the genre of their story as well as its length. Each author though makes the trek to Nordmarka forest, high above Oslo, where amongst the 1,000 trees that will one day bear their words they surrender their manuscript in a short ceremony.
For the next century these manuscripts will be sealed in Oslo’s Deichman public library until 2114 when they will finally be read.
When asked why he took part Vuong said he liked the idea of “planting literary seeds”.
“So many of our problems have to do with this Yolo approach – you only live once, use all the resources, forget about the next generation, destroy the world to get what you want. This is something antithetical to that,” he said. “It is less egotistical than regular publishing too. So much of publishing is about seeing your name in the world, but this is the opposite, putting the future ghost of you forward. You and I will have to die in order for us to get these texts. That is a heady thing to write towards, so I will sit with it a while.”
He also said he liked the idea of having his work published alongside future best-sellers who are yet to be born.
“If you look at any literary epoch, who gets carried forward in time is a mystery, still. Melville sold about 1,000 copies of Moby-Dick and now he is the totem of American fiction,” he said. “This is an antidote, to say regardless what happens in market trends, we have a record of what humans have found valuable, the voices we were interested in, for better or worse. It’ll be interesting to see if someone gets quote-unquote ‘cancelled’ or something – they’ll open it up and say, ‘Oh my God, they had this guy in there?!”
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A number of novels written by women using male pseudonym’s have now been reissued using the authors’ actual names.
Vuong also said he has not yet started the Future Library work because he has struggled to write during the coronavirus: “We are in a pandemic. We have a highly charged election ahead. I’ve been telling my students on Zoom, it is OK if you don’t write. So I am thinking about it, what I would want to leave behind”.
All the authors are banned from sharing too many details about their stories, although a few titbits have been revealed over the years. We know that Atwood’s manuscript is called Scribbler Moon and that Mitchell’s was a 90 page novella titled From Me Flows What You Call Time.
Sadly due the on-going pandemic, Knausgård, the author who signed up before Vuong, has not been able to deliver his manuscript as he lives in the UK.
Organisers say they have plans for a handover ceremony in September as long as travel restrictions allow.