Born in Nam Dinh, Trần Dần was barely twenty years old when he joined the Viet Minh in 1946. Eight years later, he returned to Hanoi following the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the departure of the French forces from northern Vietnam. Disillusioned with the Communist Party, he joined the Nhan Van-Gaia Pham group, a cultural-political movement of young writers, artists, and intellectuals pushing for freedom of expression in the new society. In 1956 he was jailed for months in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where he tried to commit suicide. From the late 1950s until 1988, he was banned from having his works published, although he continued to write novels and poems.
Ten years after his death in 1997, Trần Dần received the State Prize for his contribution to literature. In February 2008, a collection of his poems, considered to be the most complete of his works, was published in Vietnam, but shortly after publication the Ministry of Culture and Information fined the publisher for "violating administrative publishing policy" and withdrew it from distribution.
In 1966, Trần Dần gave the sole, handwritten copy of his novel, Nhung nga to van hung cot den (Crossroads and Lampposts), to the Hanoi police department in exchange for permission to talk to imprisoned former soldiers of the French colonial regime. Twenty-two years later, in 1988, the authorities returned his manuscript. It took another two decades before this classic war novel was published in Vietnam in 2011, receiving the Hanoi Literature Association prize that year.