sheila.ngoc.pham[at]gmail.com | @birdpham
Hi, I’m a Vietnamese-Australian writer, producer, editor, researcher, broadcaster, communications professional and more!
I’ve worked in different fields including the arts, media, public health, government, community development, and education, and in a number of countries including Australia, the United Kingdom, and south-east Asia (based in Thailand). I largely focus on documentary and nonfiction. Here’s my most recent work:
- From Vietnam to a Very Quiet Place (All the Best)
- My Junot Díaz Problem (Meanjin)
- The Truth About Stacey by Raina Telgemeier (Graphic Medicine)
- The rewards of reviving languages (Eureka Street)
- Bless This Home (The New York Times)
- Locked out of our mother tongues (Eureka Street)
- Transforming the Stage (Newswrite)
- Protection in the Sunburnt Country (Griffith Review)
- The enduring tradition of the famous Portuguese egg tart (Roads & Kingdoms)
- How comic books can improve healthcare (Ockham’s Razor)
From July 2018 I’ll be a regular columnist for Eureka Street. I’ve been published in books, magazines and websites including: Meanjin – Pencilled In – The New York Times – Eureka Street – Roads & Kingdoms – ABC – Womankind – Southerly – Overland – New Philosopher – Griffith Review – The Big Issue – SBS – Kill Your Darlings – peppermint – Peril – Trunk Books Vol. 2: Blood – Lonely Planet’s The Europe Book. I’m a volunteer contributor to diaCRITICS.org, Graphic Medicine and Language on the Move.
I’ve produced radio for All the Best and ABC RN programs including The Philosopher’s Zone, Earshot and Into the Music. I’ve also produced live radio for ABC Sydney and ABC Digital Extra, and recorded my writing for ABC RN programs Ockham’s Razor and 360documentaries.
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fiona Wright for her podcast series Six Degrees from the City, with the full transcript available on the Sydney Review of Books website. In the interview I discuss a range of ideas including my complex relationship with the western suburbs of Sydney, thoughts about being part of the Vietnamese diaspora, my attempt to address monolithic narratives and how I’m being shaped by motherhood, among other things.
I currently teach public health ethics at Macquarie University and am undertaking a PhD in complexity science with the support of an MQRES scholarship at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation. I’m also a serving member of the Cancer Council NSW’s Human Research Ethics Committee. All this follows on from my professional experience in public health and my Erasmus Mundus Master of Bioethics, which I undertook in 2013-2014. I was supported by a European Commission scholarship and the program took place in three countries: Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy. I also earned a Master of Public Health from the University of Sydney during 2007-2008 which I completed while working full-time at Sydney South West Area Health Service.
I have a degree in linguistics and am bilingual in English and Vietnamese. I know a little bit of Chinese, French, Italian and Thai. I’m currently collaborating with Masako Fukui on an audio series about multilingualism for ABC RN to be released towards the end of the year.
In 2018 I’m serving on the City of Canterbury-Bankstown’s Arts & Cultural Reference Group and Prosperity & Innovation Advisory Committee, and participating in the Playwrights of Parramatta program.
Lately I’ve been involved with the wonderful Lost in Books, a kids’ multilingual bookshop (and much more) in Fairfield. I chaired two discussions at their inaugural In Other Words festival in February 2018 and ran a bilingual story time on behalf of them in April 2018 for one of the Biennale of Sydney‘s Family Days.
Poet Eileen Chong and I co-organised The Uncommon Feast at Ashfield Town Hall on 7 February 2018, supported by Inner West Council’s Ashfield Library. It was a literary celebration of Lunar New Year, featuring Lachlan Brown, Wai Chim, Eileen Chong and Isabelle Li, with Eugenia Teng on the gu zheng.
I’m a mentor for Finishing School, a collective of women writers with strong connections to western Sydney. Our goal is to provide long term mentoring and professional development to emerging female writers who have already shown potential and dedication to their craft.
In 2016 I was the project manager of State of Mind at Sydney Story Factory, a creative nonfiction writing project involving more than 750 high school students across New South Wales, from a broad range of backgrounds. The anthology was published late-2017 and can be purchased from the Sydney Story Factory website.
I’ve been involved with the NSWWC since 2012, which has greatly fostered my development as a writer. I also chaired two well-attended events for Talking Writing: Refugee Stories (2015), Who’s Writing Who? (2016) and a session at Boundless (2017) focusing on diversity in theatre and performance.
As part of my CAL WestWords Western Sydney Emerging Writer Fellowship I produced The Africultures Story Hour on 12 March 2016, featuring talented emerging writers and poets in Australia whose roots span from South Africa to Sierra Leone and beyond. It was covered by SBS News: ‘Festival celebrates African cultures in Sydney‘
In 2015 I was a CAL WestWords Western Sydney Emerging Writers’ Fellow and mentored by Walter Mason. During my fellowship I wrote an essay, Black Friday, later published by Southerly; produced The Africultures Story Hour; and appeared at the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2016 event Words from the West.
I’m a semi-regular at Studio Stories, having read my writing there on a number of occasions. First at Once We Were Nerds alongside Shirley Le and Oliver Phommavanh and more recently Words from the West alongside Maryam Azam, Peter Polites and Alice Pung.
Drawing on my background in both bioethics and radio, I’ve produced two programs for The Philosopher’s Zone on ABC RN: What is a disease? and The pleasure-pain paradox
The Lost Cinema of Tan Hiep was first broadcast on ABC RN in March 2017. I wrote an accompanying article for ABC News, ‘In search of Vietnam’s nearly forgotten cinema history‘, which was republished on Saigoneer.
Saigon’s Wartime Beat was first broadcast on ABC RN in December 2012, and also broadcast on Radio Australia and ABC Digital Extra pop-up station for Anzac Day 2013. I wrote about this in ‘Saigon Songs‘ in The Big Issue.
On 30 April 2015 I produced a special storytelling night supported by Ashfield City Library called Forty Years On, featuring a curated night of Vietnamese-Australian writers. Our stories were published by SBS Vietnamese and Katherine Le’s An Education was produced for ABC RN. I wrote about the experience in a piece for Refugee Transitions called ‘The Art of […]
My short play, ‘These People’, was performed in 2015 as part of ASYLUM by Apocalypse Theatre, which featured new Australian works exploring the idea of ‘asylum’. Kathryn Yuen performed my monologue and it was directed by Cathy Hunt. Photo by Robert Catto
My radio play, ‘The Lonely Planet Guide to New Delhi‘, was staged at Sidetrack Theatre as part of Hearing Voices at the Sydney Fringe 2012 and broadcast live on Radio Skid Row 88.9FM. Cast included Jada Alberts, Valerie Berry, Sopa Enari and Jay Laga’aia. Directed by Don Mamouney and produced by Latai Taumoepeau.
I moved to Thailand in 2010 and had the idea of initiating a TEDx event in the early days of the movement. Some months later I met Katherine LeRoy and in 2011 we co-directed the first ever TEDx event in Chiang Mai, TEDxDoiSuthep. The TEDx talk by Jon Jandai has been viewed more than 7 million times and has […]
I was a curator for TEDxSydney 2012 at Carriageworks and TEDxSydney 2013 at Sydney Opera House. Photo by Fiona Lumsdaine
My family fled Vietnam as refugees and I told parts of that story in Stories Then and Now at Carriageworks, Casula Powerhouse and OzAsia Festival. Our stories were broadcast and published on the ABC RN website, and can be downloaded as podcasts.
I appeared at the Hope 2010 keynote event at City Recital Hall for Sydney Festival, speaking about my aspirations for 2010: visiting Vietnam for the first time and being a writer. I’ve since written about that inaugural trip, performed the story on stage and recorded it for radio.
I helped Melanie Tait run her storytelling slam Now Hear This during its first year at the Arthouse Hotel in Sydney. The nights were recorded live for broadcast on ABC RN. It was great fun helping out behind the scenes as well as being the scorekeeper on many occasions.
Coming Out, Again celebrated International Women’s Day 2013 by featuring ABC Radio presenters looking back on ‘The Coming Out Show’. I presented 1984 program ‘Vietnamese Women and Young Madonna’, featuring young women talking about cultural expectations around things like dating and behaviour in public.
In 2012 and 2013 I was a producer of Lunar New Year on ABC Local Radio and its accompanying pop-up station on ABC Digital Radio. It was a fun project with a great team. I loved the energy of live radio, fielding calls from across Australia and finding suitable talent including Senator Penny Wong and singer Frances Yip.
I edited ABC Pool, a social media collaborative site with an active online community. There were many creative outcomes including Poolside Stories on ABC RN Summer, showcasing the best crowdsourced radio features.
I started writing as a teenager and was a finalist in some writing competitions for young people, including the 2001 National Youth Week’s WriteIT competition. My first serious publication was a piece in Anthology: New Words and Pictures (2001), which helped me land a position as an editor of the University of Sydney’s monthly magazine Union Recorder and, later, the University of Sydney’s literary journal, Hermes. Around this time I also began editing and writing for various Australian and British websites, mostly about literature and music, interviewing writers such as Markus Zusak, Geraldine Brooks and Matthew Reilly, and musicians like Bic Runga, Elbow, Goldfrapp and Glen Hansard (The Frames). Thankfully, almost all of my earliest writing is unavailable online :) Even though I wrote a little during my 20s and started blogging, I was more focused on work, travel and sorting myself out. The adult portion of my writing life really kicked off when I was 30 with an essay I wrote about the death of a close friend. It was shortlisted for Creative Nonfiction‘s Food edition and a version of it was eventually published in The Big Issue (Australia).
I’ve spoken at Sydney Writers’ Festival, National Young Writers’ Festival, Information and Cultural Exchange and NSW Writers’ Centre. I’ve also been interviewed on ABC TV, SBS Radio, ABC Sydney, ABC RN’s Life Matters and The Final Cut, and Ch7’s Weekend Sunrise. Here’s a recent interview conducted by Mia Do for the New South Wales Writers’ Centre: Spotlight On: Sheila Ngoc Pham
In addition to my postgrad qualifications I have undergraduate degrees in psychology, linguistics, and the history and philosophy of science. I was awarded a Summer Research Scholarship from the Australian National University in 2001-2002, where I looked into public attitudes towards taxation based on qualitative survey data.
Given my family’s background as refugees from Vietnam and my own diverse life experiences, I’m concerned about multiculturalism, reconciling conflicting values, the representation of minorities, the rights of the displaced, mental health, and supporting the most vulnerable. I’m passionate about empowering others and addressing inequity which is why I’m so drawn to bioethics and healthcare. In 2004, I was the Australian youth representative at the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s roundtable in Kuala Lumpur, a follow up to the ten years after the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+10).
One of the most transformative experiences of my life was my three years as a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline, a crisis support and suicide prevention hotline. Hearing the stories of others made me appreciate that although my family has experienced a lot of adversity, we’re also very lucky. Spending time in other countries usually leads me to the same conclusion and I sometimes write about my travels over at my blog: The Travels of Elephant Woman