Hi, I’m a writer, editor, producer and scholar working across radio, print, online and film. I’m based in Sydney, Australia and live on Dharug land.
I write for a wide range of publications, and previously held digital and editorial roles at the ABC. I’ve produced many events focused on ideas and storytelling. My current focus is my PhD research into healthcare and online communities.
I was a finalist for the 2021 Pascall Prize for Arts Criticism with my Sydney Review of Books essay, ‘Coming of age in Cabramatta‘, as well as shortlisted for the Hazel Rowley Biography Fellowship 2021, David TK Wong Fellowship 2021-22 and Jesse Cox Audio Fellowship 2021. As part of the Finishing School Collective, I am currently a Creative in Residence at UTS Library, working in collaboration with Marian Abboud, Felicity Castagna and Eda Gunaydin.
I’ve twice judged the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards’ Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction. I was also a member of the Arts & Culture Reference Group for Canterbury-Bankstown City Council and a former board director of Diversity Arts Australia.
Lately I’ve been venturing into screen-based work. My first short doco, connectIRL, co-produced with Vonne Patiag, premiered at Antidote Festival on 1 September 2019 at Sydney Opera House. I was a storyliner for season 2 of The Heights and this year joined two other writers’ rooms, including the tv adaptation of ‘The Place on Dalhousie’ by Melina Marchetta. I’ve just finished up as an additional writer on the pilot for a new series idea as well.
I recently worked on a huge collaborative exhibition called Extra/Ordinary for Fairfield City Museum & Gallery which was supposed to open 3 July. Before this, the last exhibition I worked on was one I curated about Vietnamese art relating to Tết for the State Library of NSW. The exhibition followed on from my writing about a collection of Vietnamese art from the 1950s bequeathed by Mona Brand and Len Fox: A Mythical Country
Other recent-ish work includes:
- Review of The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab (Mascara Literary Review)
- Strangers on Country (Kill Your Darlings)
- Arrangements /ə’reɪn(d)ʒm(ə)nts/ (BLEED/Running Dog)
- Coming of age in Cabramatta (Sydney Review of Books)
- The late-night meal in Ho Chi Minh City that inspired a Bankstown cafe’s key dish (SBS Food)
- Bringing up a bilingual child (ABC News)
- Larpb padt sandwich (Fields & Stations)
- The complexity of pregnancy (Ockham’s Razor, ABC RN)
- Love virtually (Griffith Review)
- An act of recovery: Comics from the Vietnamese diaspora (diaCRITICS)
- Travels with Freud (Blueprint for Living, ABC RN)
- Australia in Three Books and My Junot Díaz Problem (Meanjin)
- Welcome to the neighbourhood & Learning through their stories (New York Times)
- The enduring tradition of the famous Portuguese egg tart (Roads & Kingdoms)
I’m a contributing editor of diaCRITICS.org, a project of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network and a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
I’ve been published in books, magazines & websites State Library of NSW Magazine – Sydney Review of Books – Meanjin – Museum of Contemporary Art – Fields & Stations – Pencilled In – The New York Times – Eureka Street – Roads & Kingdoms – Womankind – Southerly – Overland – ABC – New Philosopher – Griffith Review – SBS – The Big Issue – Kill Your Darlings – peppermint – Peril – Trunk Books – Lonely Planet. I’ve contributed to Graphic Medicine and Language on the Move.
I’ve produced radio for ABC RN (e.g. The Philosopher’s Zone, Earshot & Into the Music) and FBi’s All the Best. I’ve also produced for ABC Digital Extra & ABC National Local Radio, and recorded for 360documentaries & Ockham’s Razor.
I teach public health ethics at Macquarie University as a casual lecturer and am undertaking a PhD with the support of a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation. My research focuses on women’s experiences of gestational diabetes mellitus.
All of this follows on from my professional experience in public health and my Erasmus Mundus Master of Bioethics magna cum laude, which I undertook in 2013-2014 with a European Commission scholarship in The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. I completed a Master of Public Health with merit from the University of Sydney during 2007-2008 while working at Sydney South West Area Health Service.
In addition to my postgrad qualifications are my 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.
I’m a language nerd! I’m bilingual in English and Vietnamese. I know a bit of French, Italian and Thai because I’ve lived in different places including the United Kingdom and Thailand. I’ve studied the basics of many other languages as well including Spanish and Chinese.
During 2018 I was commissioned to undertake research for a feature article for the State Library of NSW’s magazine. It sent me on a fascinating and unexpected path examining a large collection of Vietnamese poster art from the 1950s that the library currently holds in its special collection. Following on from my article which was…
I was a guest of Mudgee Readers’ Festival 2019, as a member of the Finishing School Collective. So many great public conversations and sessions about writing and life. I even got to have a great chat about podcasts with Jenn Martin, Benjamin Law and Sophie Hansen which was fun as I never get to talk…
I’ve had numerous public appearances over the past year or so on tv and radio, talking about things like books (Ponti by Sharlene Teo) and tv series (Anne with an E). But my favourite public appearance was the inaugural Austen Con in Melbourne in December 2018. It was great fun talking with fellow ‘Janeites’ about…
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. 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 Writing NSW 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.
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 National 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…
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 various writing competitions for young people, including the 2001 National Youth Week’s WriteIT competition. My first proper 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 (2002) and, later, the University of Sydney’s literary journal, Hermes (2003). During my years as an editor at university 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. Thankfully, all of my earliest writing is now unavailable online :) Even though I wrote during my 20s and blogged, I was mostly focused on work, travel and sorting myself out. The adult portion of my writing life kicked off when I was 30 with my essay about the death of a close friend. It was shortlisted for Creative Nonfiction‘s Food edition and a version of it was published in The Big Issue (Australia) (2011).
I’ve spoken at events including Sydney Writers’ Festival, National Young Writers’ Festival, Information & Cultural Exchange and NSW Writers’ Centre. I’ve also been interviewed on ABC TV’s The Mix, SBS Radio (Vietnamese), ABC Sydney, ABC RN’s Life Matters, The Final Cut and The Book Show, and Ch7’s Weekend Sunrise.
Here’s an interview with me conducted by Mia Do for the New South Wales Writers’ Centre: Spotlight On: Sheila Ngoc Pham. I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fiona Wright for her podcast series Six Degrees from the City, with the 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.
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 addressing inequity which is why I’m so drawn to bioethics and healthcare. In 2004, I was the Australian representative at the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s roundtable in Kuala Lumpur, a ten-year follow up to the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.
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.