The Power Couple of Vietnam's 1980s Literary Scene

The Power Couple of Vietnam's 1980s Literary Scene
Photo Credit: Saigoneer. Illustration by Andy Tran.

What you need to know

Luu Quang Vu and Xuan Quynh’s death was something of a national tragedy in the late 1980s, but their legacy has lived on through their body of work and life stories.

By Khoi Pham

It has been almost three decades since that fateful day in 1988 when, in a blink of an eye, Vietnam’s literary scene was robbed of two most beloved talents. Luu Quang Vu and Xuan Quynh’s death was something of a national tragedy in the late 1980s, but their legacy has lived on through their body of work and life story.

Luu Quang Vu was born in 1948 in Phu Tho province where he spent most of his childhood. Vu’s father, Luu Quang Thuan, was also a famous playwright. In 1954, the family moved to Hanoi where he eventually settled down for the rest of his career and life.

Having been through many walks of life — writer, soldier, factory worker and even a street sign painter — Vu had always crafted his creative works based on his life experience. Therefore, most of his screenplays, short stories and poems are multi-faceted realist productions that don’t shy away from portraying the trials and tribulations of life in Vietnam during the eras during and immediately after the war.

By the time Luu Quang Vu passed away at 40, he had written some 50 screenplays, most of which are still frequently adapted nowadays into theatrical productions and even feature films.

During his lifetime, Vu was married twice: first to movie starlet To Uyen and then to fellow poet Xuan Quynh. Vu and Uyen’s courtship and marriage were the talk of the town back then. After her 1960s hit Con Chim Vanh Khuyen (The White-Eye), Uyen was propelled into stardom at only 13 years old. Young Luu Quang Vu was the soldier with a flair for poetry who adored her.

However, it was not until Vu’s second marriage with Xuan Quynh did the two contemporaries become the center of Vietnam’s literary scene. After their first marriage, both Vu and Quynh brought along a child into the marriage, in addition to a daughter they had together.

Life wasn’t always rosy for the writer duo with three children as they were living on limited government stipends. However, both Luu Quang Vu and Xuan Quynh rose above the occasion and produced some of the best works in their oeuvre. Her love poems and his screenplays were the most celebrated creations in the 1980s when his plays inundated theaters from Hanoi to Saigon.

Unfortunately, the pair’s marital bliss and career heights didn’t last long. In August 1988, Luu Quang Vu and artist Doan Chau had to make a trip from Hanoi to Hai Phong province’s theater department. Both decided to bring along their family to squeeze in a short visit to Do Son Beach on the way.

According to Doan Chau, who survived the accident, their vehicle was going down a bridge when two women on a bicycle suddenly cut across the street in front of the car. The driver managed to brake in time, but the truck behind didn’t. Vu and Quynh’s car ended up slamming into another truck in front, shaking the passengers off the vehicle and onto the street.

Their sudden departure shocked everyone from colleagues to the general public as the pair was almost universally adored by all for their relationship and contribution to the local literary scene.

In today's Vietnam, Luu Quang Vu lends his name to a street in Da Nang while his wife's namesake lies in District 9 of Saigon.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article. The original can be found here.

TNL Editor: Olivia Yang