Ira Sukrungruang, a professor at the University of Southern Florida, will read and sign his new book on April 13 at T-Bones. “Dharma’s Dog” is a collection of essays that revolve around finding a sense of self.
Sukrungruang said that his new book uses the lenses of family, body image, American pop-culture and dogs.
“Part of the book is about a life with dogs and how dogs love without thought to the problems of the world,” Sukrungruang said. “They love you and don’t care about your bad day, bad marriage, bad whatever. It is such a comfort to know a love like that.”
Sukrungruang said that his inspiration comes from growing up in the south side of Chicago as a first-generation immigrant of Thai heritage.
“When you grow up a person of color, an immigrant son, you love the world presented to you,” Sukrungruang said. “That world is America. That world is of people made from different cultures and ethnicities. Or, of a dominant white culture. When you grow up in a world when you are the minority your lens can sometimes lean and love the majority because it is what you know.”
Sukrungruang is an awardwinning writer; his collection of essays “Southside Buddhist” and his debut book “The Melting Season and Other Stories” both won bronze medals from the Florida Book awards. His autobiography “Talk Thai: The Adventures of a Buddhist Boy” also won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, a non-profit organization that prides itself on promotion of American multicultural literature.
Bryana Fern, a doctoral student at Southern Miss focusing on fiction writing, is excited for Sukrangruang’s visit. Fern said that she took his creative nonfiction course, and he opened her up to idea that she has a story to tell.
“Everyone’s voice is important,” Fern said. “Everyone has a story, even if they think they don’t. And his particularly story comes from a unique place because it is all about the Thai experience. He incorporates his childhood— and adult— questions of religion, culture, heritage and identity into much of his work, which spans from stories and novels to poems and essays.”
Fern said that many in the English department have their English 101 students read “Southside Buddhist” during the memoir unit. “His essays resonate with me in the way the secret version of yourself, the self you don’t usually let others see, is always with you,” Fern said.
Manager of T-Bones Mik Davis helps to put on events with the English graduate students and the Center for Writers at Southern Miss. Davis has been working with the C4W for five years.
Davis said that he read and enjoyed many of Sukrangruang’s short stories. “The neat thing about a short story writer is a lot of times in reading, people who write long prose kind of get short changed,” Davis said. “But if they read an entire short story, you get a really good idea of the voice of the writer, what his intent was and whether he met his goal.”
“It’s like listening to a song or two on an album. If you get a couple of songs, you go into it thinking, ‘Man I’m really going to like this,’” Davis said. “We like embracing new writers, and think it is very important to [do so].”
You can find and buy all of Sukrangruang’s work online at buddishtboy.com and copies of “Dharma’s Dog,” on sale at the reading and signing.