A remembrance of Anthony Veasna So by 2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Ariel Chu who was a classmate of Anthony’s in the Syracuse University MFA program.
Ariel Chu and Anthony So posing together with a copy of The New York Times advertisement announcing the 2019 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows. The photo was taken at their home in Syracuse, which they shared with three other writers during the first two years of the Syracuse University MFA program, which they both attended. Ariel is wearing Anthony's hat, which he wore the previous year when his Fellowship was announced.
A portrait of Anthony So taken before his Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships interview in early 2018 by Christopher Smith.
When Anthony Veasna So earned the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship in my first year of the MFA program, I wasn't surprised at all. We all knew Anthony was destined for great things: here was this incandescently funny, scary-brilliant, irreverent writer blazing through our fiction cohort, stunning us all with his masterful dialogue, discursive interludes, and generously bracing take on the world. Here was someone who could back up his witticisms and no-nonsense brashness with work—hours of painstaking revision, research, voracious reading—someone who observed and had a theory for everything. Whose memory was specific and painfully accurate, whose view of the world was both expansive and idiosyncratically nuanced, whose opinions cut through social niceties and empowered everyone to be bolder, more honest.
What we lose in Anthony is a catalyst: the person in the room who tells unpleasant truths, then works to make things better. The peer who is upfront about others’ shortcomings because he wants them to succeed, because he sees in them a brighter possibility. The friend whose bombastic humor and gregariousness belie a deep sensitivity, a need to understand and make meaning out of situations. The writer whose intellect can simultaneously reconcile the comic and the tragic, whose voice is truly his own.
I wish I could make this remembrance funny and charged and idiosyncratic the same way Anthony was; I wish I could remember him without resorting to trite sentimentality; I wish I could say more about the ways he was so hilariously human. But I think Anthony speaks best for himself: all his writing, including a preorder link for his debut short story collection, is still available on his website. When you miss Anthony's incisive commentary during long car rides, read "The Shop" and feel yourself sink into the beautiful, terrible mundane. Visit "Superking Son Scores Again" to remember Anthony's larger-than-life party stories, his way of rendering the smallest moments in technicolor. And when you need a dose of Anthony's incisive, cerebral theory, his way of making the world both intelligible and mysterious, revisit "Three Women of Chuck's Donuts." Anthony was a once-in-a-generation talent. I am so grateful for the chance to have read his work and mourn that the world will be bereft of more. ∎