Next Step: Sonny Mehta Poetry Fellow, Iowa Writers' Workshop
Bader Al- Awadhi was born and raised in Kuwait. His parents encouraged him to study medicine or engineering in college, and he initially came to Loyola Marymount University to pursue an engineering major.
“But from the moment I sat in that first algorithms and applications class, I found myself distracted by a longing, not for a physical home; but for the sense of place I felt in the creative world,” said Al-Awadhi.
Al-Awadhi found his home in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts English Department where he studied British Literature, African American Literature, and poetry writing. He was on the Dean’s List for six semesters and graduated in 2021. He was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recently selected as the inaugural Sonny Mehta Poetry Fellow.
LMU Professor Gail Wronsky is the author, coauthor, or translator of twelve books of poetry and prose. She described him as “one of the top three poetry students I’ve had in over thirty years of teaching. His talent is breathtaking.” Sarah Maclay is clinical associate professor of English at LMU, as well as an award-winning poet and critic and author or co-author of four full-length poetry collections and three chapbooks. Her fifth collection, "Nightfall Marginalia," will be published in fall 2023. She praised his work for its “degree of sophistication, a fearlessness, a willingness to take each experiment to the hilt, a wild proficiency and pleasure in language, a playfulness, a ferocity, a virtuosity and range that is stunning not just in student work, but in any, as key themes and experiences emerge—his early experiences in wartime Kuwait; an attunement and sensitivity to and appreciation of so many nuances of language, culture, religion and historical and environmental context, both within and beyond the Middle East; and, perhaps above all, the way he is wrestling to the ground the many contradictions and conflicts inherent in the discovery and expression of sexuality, familial expectations, and faith, both inherent and as practiced.”
The Mehta Fellowships and Scholarships give preference to applicants from underrepresented countries, particularly the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, and North Africa. They are funded by an endowment from Gita Mehta, novelist, documentary filmmaker, and Sonny Mehta’s widow. “These endowments align with Sonny’s conviction as a publisher,” said Mrs. Mehta, “Giving writers the freedom and time and support they need to carry forward with their work.”
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop was the first creative writing program in the United States, and, since its founding in Iowa City in 1936, it remains the most prestigious and selective program of its kind, typically admitting fewer than five percent of its applicants. It offers the Master of Fine Arts in English, and provides an opportunity for the talented writer to work and learn with established poets and prose writers. Through the years, some of the best writers in the world have gone there to deepen their understanding of the craft of writing. Many of them have gone on to publish award-winning work after graduating. Workshop alumni have won seventeen Pulitzer Prizes, as well as numerous National Book Awards and other major literary honors. Six recent U.S. Poet Laureates have been graduates of the Workshop.
While enrolled at Iowa, Al-Wadhi will work on a collection of poems, “The Fertile Crescent,” which will explore “the complexities of navigating and understanding one's queerness as an Arab, both in the Middle East and in the United States, and all that comes with this unique intersection of identity.”
“I think international and cultural exchanges such as this are foundational to our healing and collective empowerment as citizens of a constantly shrinking Earth. We artists are no longer limited to singular language, singular space or geographical location,” said Al-Awadhi.