Tracy Fuad was born the same month as the internet: March 1989. In her most recent poetry collection, about:blank, published in October, she describes the web as a bridge between the user and faraway places, present and past.
“When you’re coming of age and trying to figure out who you are, the internet is an interface to do that,” she says from her apartment at the Fine Arts Work Center, where she’s a fellow this winter. While growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis, she went to the internet with some of her first questions about her heritage, including “what does it mean that my dad is Kurdish?”
In about:blank, Fuad explores the paradox of the internet as a place “of fracture and disconnection, but also of seeking out connection and finding connection” and how it mirrors “the liminality of my identity” as an American of Kurdish heritage. The title comes from the fact that if you type “about:blank” into the URL bar of your browser, you’ll get a white screen — the absence of a webpage. Claudia Rankine selected about:blank as winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry in 2020, which included publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Fuad has been writing since childhood but started taking writing classes, submitting her writing to publications, and hosting salons in her apartment in her mid-20s. She studied political science as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, then completed an M.F.A. in creative writing at Rutgers-Newark in 2018.
Fuad will read poems written during her fellowship on Saturday, March 5 alongside writing fellow Sterling HolyWhiteMountain. “It’s only in the last weeks that I saw that I have this new body of work that I’ve put in here,” she says. While at FAWC, she’s also been putting the finishing touches on a novel that takes place “in the present, mundane world,” she says. “A lot of it takes place in Kurdistan. I wrote it while I was living there.”
Fuad and her father both have a Kurdish father and American mother. Fuad’s grandparents moved from Kurdistan to Baghdad in 1960, when Fuad’s father was a year old.
That was 40 years after the Western Allies of World War I divvied up control of Middle Eastern territories with the Treaty of Sèvres, drawing borders through the Kurds’ Mesopotamian homeland. Today, that land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers makes up parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
Over the last century, the Kurdish struggle for autonomy became more complex as groups across borders navigated different governments and direct threats from ISIS. In her poem “Causativity,” Fuad observes how “The overlapping states, instead of turn, together, when blended like military, diplomatic,/ intelligence and information weapons pursue the task of supporting each other.” In “Chemical Attack at Halabja, 1988,” Fuad writes that the “gas smelled like apples/ and slunk to the earth, more dense/ than air” during the Anfal genocide of the Kurdish people, sanctioned by Saddam Hussein.
Fuad’s family left Iraq in 1974. After a series of Kurdish uprisings, “eventually, at some point, they didn’t go back again,” she said. Since 2005, the Kurdistan Regional Government autonomously governs Iraqi Kurdistan.
Fuad’s father didn’t return to Kurdistan until 2008, when the family spent the whole summer there. “I was 19, and it was very, very formative,” she says. “I became very close with my cousins there, who I didn’t know existed. I just had this amazing experience there, grappling with the family history, the political history, and suddenly being part of this huge family structure that was totally foreign to me.”
After completing her M.F.A., Fuad accepted a job teaching English as a second language at a public university in Iraqi Kurdistan. She lived in a rural farming town from 2018 until 2020. She says learning Kurdish as an adult felt like a way to restore a heritage that had been severed by a tumultuous history.
She writes about the loneliness in searching for people to practice Kurdish with in “Jin-Jiyan-Azade,” from about:blank: “A single note can start to overtake a song/ Posing the question, how much can a single vessel hold?/ The more I try to press my irritation into joy, the more the language dries and turns another/ Still I navigate to KurdChat.com, a room with no one in it.”
Snippets of dictionaries and grammar books also appear in about:blank, like a linguistic scrapbook. Before the first section of the book, “project,” Fuad includes Kurdish words paired with their English translations like epigraphs. She admires how many meanings a single word takes on. In one case, the Kurdish word for “violet” also means “virgin; ash; ant.”
Outside of empty chatrooms, Fuad ended up finding “amazing community in this small town. I joined this women’s gym and did Zumba every day. I just felt very welcomed in the small community,” though she jokes that, before her Kurdish improved, she was sure people were making fun of her.
The poems she’s written in Provincetown have “been shaped by the natural landscapes here.” Whereas, before, they included “hydrangeas? no, hyacinths,/ but only in my original language,” such as in the poem “Flower,” now they’re brimming with whales, beaches, and trash-collection trips.
At FAWC, Fuad has found community among fellow poets. “We’ve been meeting and workshopping our poems,” she says. “It’s been super vital for me.” Fuad says that “reading new work with an audience is always informative.” But she doesn’t feel she’s been overly pressured to produce work for this event. She sees the fellowship as a “contemplative, reflective space to step back from your work and see it freshly.”
Many of Fuad’s poems bridge the chasm between digital and physical space. But they are also “about making sense of where you come from, and how that fits into global systems of power and hierarchy,” she says.
The event: A reading by Fine Arts Work Center writing fellows Tracy Fuad and Sterling HolyWhiteMountain
The time: Saturday, March 5 at 7 p.m.
The place: Stanley Kunitz Room, Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown; or online at fawc.org
The cost: Free