Researching, interviewing and reading poetry to an audience are all part of the process for poet Ruth Awad, who was a visiting writer for the Virtual Arts Series 2020 Corona Edition at Bowling Green State University.
English professor Abigail Cloud introduced Awad recently as part of the arts from home series, a new regular virtual Thursday evening interdisciplinary arts series collaboration between the College of Musical Arts, the School of Art, the Department of Theatre and Film and the Creative Writing Program to promote a culture of creativity.
Awad is an award-winning Lebanese American poet. Her debut poetry collection, “Set to Music a Wildfire,” won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. Her poetry can also be found in many poetry journals.
The collection is all written from her father’s perspective and set during the Lebanese civil war and follows his life to America, the dissolution of his marriage and raising three girls.
She did a series of many interviews with her father, where she acted as a reporter.
“Will I ever be surprised by what I can survive?” Awad’s father asked in her opening reading from the book.
“I didn’t even know where to begin to understand what it was like to live as a civilian in the midst of a war,” Awad said.
As Awad explained, more than 120,000 lost their lives and millions more were displaced. There were multiple countries, political philosophies and religious sects involved.
“During my interviews with my dad, I asked him a very ignorant, American question, and that was, who did you want to win the war?” Awad said. “He just looked at me a little dumbfounded. Rightfully so.”
“I only wanted my family to win,” answered her father.
“That response has haunted me ever since,” Awad said.
She also read poetry that was still in process and not, in her opinion, satisfactorily finished.
“I feel it’s important to kind of share poems in progress, especially with students, because this is part of the process. I think that reading poems out loud is really important, to get a feel for how people are responding,” Awad said.
Since the pandemic started the readings have been virtual, which she finds harder, because she can’t read facial expressions from the audience.
Between readings Awad also gave advice, making it as much a master class as entertainment.
Following her readings she answered questions.
Listeners wanted to know what it was like to write from her father’s perspective, instead of her own.
“There’s a good mix of me in there too,” Awad said.
It’s been tough to write during the pandemic, she said, although that is not the case for everyone. Several of the people in her writers group have been turning out a lot of work.
She also recommended researching while writing. It’s a process that she has used with more than just the book about her father. She has also done commissioned work. With that piece, which was on climate change, she said she didn’t know where she would have started without the research.
She also suggested reading a lot of other people’s work. She is currently reading poetry by Kaveh Akbar, Cameron Rich and Kelly Grace Thomas.
Coming events in the Virtual Arts Series 2020, which are all at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, include:
Thursday: Cineposium — Selected Short Films, Department of Theatre and Film
Nov. 12: QRF Virtual Faculty Exhibition, School of Art
Nov. 19, Faculty Artist Series, College of Musical Arts
Dec. 5, ArtsX 2020