(PROVO, UT) Sept. 30, 2016–Ira Sukrungruang’s first child is just a few months old and has no idea that his father has already written him beautiful letters, one for each of the first five days of his life. Sukrunruang says the words to his son are not lullabies, but the wise and sometimes desperate words of a first-time father still haunted by his own father’s abandonment.
“Son,” he writes, “time, for a father, is not linear. I’ve seen you through college, all your successes and regrets. I’ve gone backwards, too, when you did not exist, when I did not exist, witnessing this lineage of fathers who strayed. My past is your past, son.” He goes on, “Son, love your mother. See yourself mirrored in her eyes, but do not forget your father. He will be there. He promises. He promises so many things.”
Being the son of Thai immigrants growing up in America has also shaped much of his work, including his books, among which are Talk Thai: Adventures of Buddhist Boy, Southside Buddhist, and The Melting Season. The contrast between his heritage and birth country are evident when he writes to his son, “Your mother worries people will not know you are hers. You have inherited all that is Thai in me. You look like this country. You’re born from a yellow man and a white woman who wakes you with kisses, who holds you so tight fearing you might evaporate.”
Themes like this feature prominently throughout his poetic letters and the biographical short story he shared later in his presentation. Much of what he writes is rooted in his life experiences; in his words, “Fiction and nonfiction kind of intertwine with me.”
Asked how he makes his characters so multifaceted and compelling, Sukrunruang explained, “A lot of them do come from people I know. I think about all my friends, and what made them who they were – both the uglinesses and the things that made them beautiful.” In order to give life to a fictional character, Sukrunruang believes that they, “have to be complex, they have to have motivation. You need to look at them as if they can do anything and everything and not do anything and everything, too.”
Sukrunruang’s work looks at the contrasts and frictions in his life with a compassionate but unflinching boldness and a healthy dose of humor – he had the audience laughing at many points during his presentation. His readings brought the audience to love and care for his characters and taught them to appreciate beauty in even the saddest of places. His high school English teacher and role model once told him, “Every story’s about love, or a version of love.” Even though, as a teenager, he brushed off his teacher’s comment as untrue, “[It] stuck with me for years,” Sukrunruang said, “and that’s in many ways the mantra I keep saying over and over with anything I write.”
–Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’17)
Olivia covers events for the English Department of the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in writing and rhetoric.