Writers in Residence: Lessons from poet Ira Sukrungruang

By Emily Topper | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Photo by www.flagler.edu

Poet Ira Sukrungruang was the first author to speak at this year's Writer's in Residence events.

Poet Ira Sukrungruang was the first author to speak at this year’s Writer’s in Residence events.

On September 26, Flagler College’s Writers in Residence program had the honor of hosting author Ira Sukrungruang. Sukrungruang, a Chicago born, Thai-American spoke to a full audience in the Gamache-Koger Theater. The atmosphere constantly flipped between uproarious laughter and stoic silence as the author recounted his life through anecdotes: understanding cultural diversity, religion and how he learned to integrate himself fully into two very different cultures.

Sukrungruang is best known for his works “In Thailand It is Night” and “Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy.”

After opening with a joke, the author read selections from many of his publications, the first being from “Talk Thai”. At the beginning of the reading, Sukrungruang claims that his parents “raised him to be Thai” and this is reflected in the hilarious yet honest religious questions that young Sukrungruang asks his Christian best friend, recounted in the reading.

He discussed growing up as a Buddhist, but also wanting to understand the Christian religion, and who Jesus was. The selection that Sukrungruang read from “Talk Thai” was piqued with humor, but also established the struggles that Sukrungruang had while growing up trying to understand both “Thai and Buddhism, Americanism and Christianity.” Sukrungruang explained at the reading that these ideas of displacement went on to become a theme in his life, and a source for much of his future writing.

The “Talk Thai” selection was followed by poetry of the same theme. The first poem Sukrungruang read was “An Attempt to Explain Reincarnation”, followed by “A Beautiful Sadness.” Other poems read by Sukrungruang were “Fathers, Princes, All”; “The Country I Never Had”; “The Green We Speak” and “What I Want to Remember in the Next Life.”

Following his poetry reading, Sukrungruang held a brief Q&A session with the audience, in which he expressed his love of writing, his concerns, and his inspirations.

The author, who believes that creative non-fiction helped him to improve his writing overall, stated that he admires a variety of different authors, from Faulkner and Hemingway to Brenda Miller and Maxine Hong Kingston. He also found inspiration to write from his family.

“I grew up teaching myself how to read…I grew up in a family that told stories, and I loved how my mother told stories, often more than the stories themselves,” said Sukrungruang.

Sukrungruang, who is also an English professor at the University of South Florida, had advice for aspiring writers—especially the ones who had trouble carving out time to write every day.

“We write about the things that haunt us—about what we obsess about all the time,” Sukrungruang explained at the event. “Write about the same thing in a different way. I find most of my writing is done during the school year: in between classes and after conferences with students. The best advice I have [for writing] is to sit in a chair and not move for an hour. It’s needed.”

Many of Sukrungruang’s fiction works are available on Amazon, including “In Thailand It Is Night” and “Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy.” Two anthologies that Sukrungruang has published are also available: “What Are You Looking At?: The First Fat Fiction Anthology” and “Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology.”

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