— Profile by Ana Shaw, Editor-In-Cheif for Elan Literary Magazine
Probably the most striking thing a person notices when researching Ira Sukrungruang is his immense diversity in pursuits, and the massive amount he has accomplished as a writer throughout his career. Most relevant, he teaches in the University of South Florida MFA program and co-founded a literary magazine, Sweet: A Literary Confection, which publishes invigorating and unique pieces collected by a shared element of literal sweets represented in the pieces. Sukrungruang has published a number of books, including the memoir Southside Buddhist, which won the 2015 National Book Award. He writes across all genres, publishing essays, poems, and, most recently, a collection of short stories, The Melting Season. His talents as an editor were brought to light in his role coediting two anthologies on obesity, the first of their kind.
A few themes arise often in Sukrungruang’s work. A first generation Thai American, cultural identity is one of the most common themes throughout his pieces, in particular the representation of a person’s navigation between two different country and cultural identities, especially in a too-often ignorant society. Distinctive within his work is the use of genre-crossing. Few writers exist equally in poetic, fiction, and nonfiction spaces, but Sukrungruang not only publishes across these areas, the influences of different genres clearly influences how he writes, directing his prose to a heightened level of specificity and compact power, and giving spaces to breathe within the lines of his poetry. This writer does not exist in a box. His work seems to breathe and flow, enlightening the reader in the sorts of fresh insights which only arise from forging new connections between separate parts of our world, writing and otherwise.
One of the clearest demonstrations of this fluidity and mixing of genres can be found in the essay Chop Suey, published in Brevity Literary Magazine. It’s an incredibly concise expression of the author’s experience as a first generation American, such a rich emotional experience compacted into a tiny essay. Sukrungruang uses subtlety, ambiguity, and immense amounts of implication in detail choice, diction, and the simple structure of his images to create a poetic contact with the reader. Simultaneously, the freedom and space of narrative to adds freedom and space, giving the reader space to dig through the levels as they read, as well as work through a narrative. “Chop Suey” speaks to how genres do not exist in separation, but influence each other, and benefit from bleeding over the lines. Sukrungruang uses flash fiction, and flash fiction length to force mixing of the genres: the average fictional techniques would struggle to create such layered meaning out of so few words. The result is a story heightened, a takeaway with a terrible punch, both elevated beyond what any one genre may have been capable of achieving.
For fellow writers, I would suggest turning to Sukrungruang when you feel your work becoming stale around the edges, when your techniques feel repetitive. The bold creativity present in his essays, poetry, and stories, conjures up a level of innovation that any artist can benefit from.
Links are attached to:
The website of Sweet Lit Mag: https://sweetlit.wordpress.com
List and descriptions of Sukrungruang’s published books: http://www.buddhistboy.com/books/