As part of the Emerging Authors focus of the Voices in the Valley reading series, award-winning poets Su Hwang and Asiya Wadud read from their works in Founders Hall on Monday, Feb. 12.
Voices in the Valley is a reading series that brings in national writers of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction to visit classes and to give public readings at Saginaw Valley.
They typically bring in about three to four writers a year. As coordinator and director of the series, creative writing professor Arra Ross spoke highly of the two authors.
“They are both excellent poets who address important current topic matter in compelling ways,” Ross said.
Hwang, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Minnesota in 2016, teaches creative writing with the Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop. She read poems from her first collection titled “Bodega.”
A child of immigrants, Hwang grew up in New York City, where her parents ran a corner store and dry cleaners. The collection explores themes such as childhood and the immigrant experience, which includes issues such as the difficulties of assimilation and communication.
“I’m using the metaphor of that urban, communal space to talk about the intersectionality of race, identity, class, marginalization within marginalized communities but through the narrative of a coming-of-age story,” Hwang said.
“An Immigrant’s Elegy” was inspired by Hwang’s first trip back to Seoul since she was a kid to see her dying grandmother, while “Hosanna Dry Cleaners” was based on the experiences of her parents. Both poems reflect different aspects of familial and generational communication.
Asiya Wadud, a 2016 Brooklyn Poets Fellow, teaches third grade during the day and English to new immigrants and refugees at night, and the latter informs a great deal of her poetry.
She read mostly from her forthcoming book, “crosslight for youngbird,” which focuses most of its pieces on the current refugee crisis in the Middle East and its impact on Europe.
In poems such as “Calais, onward,” and “Lida meet lorry,” Wadud depicts the often-harrowing accounts of refugees in transit and the emotional toll it takes on them.
“A lot of the poems in this collection are sort of retellings of different events that have happened within the refugee crisis,” Wadud said. “It’s looking at migration and language across migration and the necessity of acquiring new languages as you move through space.”
Wadud also read from another forthcoming book, titled “Sizable Calamities.” The book documents the work of a forensic science lab in Milan that is working to subsume the bodies of people who have died making the Central Mediterranean crossings from North Africa to countries in southern Europe.
Ross, the creative writing professor, commented on the significance of the thematic concerns that authors explore in their work.
“These individual poets both grapple with bringing deep compassion and understanding to realms of loss, and of loss of love,” Ross said. “They are particularly important voices at this juncture in our patriotic climate, when we need to remember to be more inclusive, never less.”
Fourth-year creative writing student Zoey Cohen found the readings compelling and appreciated the opportunity to support poetry.
“It was nice to be able to compare and contrast two different voices,” Cohen said. “It’s a small campus and creative writing is a small major, so it’s good to have these kinds of events because it creates a sense of community which you need when the major’s so small.”
Ross thinks everyone would benefit from attending the readings.
“You will only come away with more than you came with,” Ross said. “Hearing these writers share their work can be enormously mind-opening, and more importantly, can foster a wider experience of the necessity of compassion.”