Event Recap

Seng Ty on “The Years of Zero”

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Author and educator at Lowell Public Schools Seng Ty visited the Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) campus on Thursday, April 25, 2019, to share with the College community The Years of Zero, his personal account of the Cambodian genocide and the cruelty he endured under the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. The presentation was the culminating event of the College’s One Book program, which brings the entire BHCC community together to read the same book over the course of an academic year.

Born in the Kampong Speu province of Cambodia, Ty was the son of a respected physician, plucked from his comfortable middle-class home and thrust headlong into the unspeakable barbarities of an agricultural labor camp at the age of seven. The sole survivor of his family, Ty bore witness to the brainwashing campaigns, torture and depravities of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately made his way to a refugee camp in Thailand in 1981. His story was featured in TIME Magazine’s article, “Children of War,” and was read by an American family in Amherst, MA, who adopted him a year later.

Opening Thursday’s One Book presentation, the Angkor Dance Troupe performed the Cambodian classical “Boung & Blessing Dance,” a central symbol of peace, prosperity and good health in Cambodian culture often performed at inaugural events and special occasions, before BHCC Associate Professor of English and One Book Coordinator Whitney B. Nelson announced the winners of this year’s One Book Creative Writing Contest,Naoual Khairane and Alsadig Ahmed.

Moderated by BHCC Distinguished Artist Scholar in Residence Robin Chandler, Ph.D., Thursday’s One Book presentation brought to light the parallels between Cambodia under the regime and the perils of the world today. “When I look back at history and I see what is going on in the world today, I think, ‘This is not new. This is what happened 40 years ago in Cambodia,’” said Ty. “It is the same ideology: you are poor because of rich, educated people. They make you poor.”

With The Years of Zero, Ty wishes to expand his message beyond his students and the Lowell community to people all over the world who are in need of a little hope and to bring justice to those lives that were lost.

Prior to the afternoon presentation, Ty enjoyed lunch with students and faculty in the Mary L. Fifield Art Gallery and spoke to students who participated in the program. Since its inception in 2004, BHCC’s One Book program has hosted an annual author forum. One Book selections have included Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains; Alfred Lubrano’s Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams; Elizabeth Kobert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe; Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey; Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore; Firoozeh Dumas’ Funny in Farsi; William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; Josh Neufield’s graphic novel A.D. – New Orleans After the Deluge; Christina Henriquez’ first fiction novelThe Book of Unknown Americans; Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; and Edwidge Danticat’s The Dew Breaker.

For more information on BHCC’s One Book Program, visit bhcc.edu/onebook


Interview of The Years of Zero author Seng Ty