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16-year-old Syrian-American poet explores dark subjects through verse

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — High school student Ludella Awad was born in America but she straddles two worlds.

The daughter of Syrian immigrants, her family’s background has given her an insight and dimension most don’t typically gain until adulthood. Although her parents left the country long before civil war tore it apart, her extended family is still there and has endured the hardships of war. Her uncle’s home was bombed and destroyed four years ago. He has yet to receive compensation.

Before the conflict began, Awad, who speaks both English and Arabic fluently, would visit the country annually. She’s now turned the plight of her family and others in the country into a published book of poetry called “Sad Piano Music in Syria.”

Her former English teacher, Orlando Vigil, met Awad two years ago when she was a sophomore at Albuquerque School of Excellence. Vigil said Awad, now 16, approached him after class one day and presented him with a binder of poetry and asked him to help her get it published. Impressed by her poetry, he agreed and drew up a contract agreeing to mentor her.

Those poems became her first novel, “Behind the Covers,” which explores the ways in which people use masks to hide who they are. He said Awad’s writing advocates for social justice around the globe and he’s impressed by her insight into people’s inner feelings.

“Through her writing, Ludella has transformed herself in front of her peers and teachers from a shy, unassuming student to a confident, assertive young published writer, with her own distinctive voice,” he said. “Her accomplishments at such a young age are phenomenal.”

Awad’s parents are from Damascus, the capital of Syria. They met after her father, Sam, who was already living in the United States, returned for a visit. That’s when he met her mom, Fairouz. The two eventually married and Fairouz returned to Albuquerque with her husband. They have two children, a son who is now 20 and Ludella.

Awad said from a young age she began writing and keeping a journal. She used it in middle school to work through her feelings of awkwardness and insecurity.

“I felt like I didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I would experience things, like bullying, and try to write about it.”

Ludella said she watches both local and international news every day and tries to put herself in the place of people suffering around the world, especially those in Syria. Fairouz said the government there was always controlling but people were still able to enjoy a normal life. The war, she said, has changed that.

Fairouz visited Damascus to see her sick mother in 2012, a year after the civil war began. She said the fighting had not yet entered the city but she was afraid of what might happen to her.

“You can’t say anything because they (government) will go after you,” she said. “My brother and sister have suffered a lot. Other people have lost homes and family members. Entire towns have been destroyed.”

Awad’s 112-page book on Syria features 45 poems and covers some dark subjects with titles such as “Screams of the Children in Syria,” “Syria’s Sadness” and “Syria’s Bloody Nightmare.” The poem “Screams of the Children in Syria” starts, “Sad piano music playing …” and describes the conditions children, many of them orphans, now live in.

Awad is now a senior and taking classes both at her charter high school and college-level courses at Central New Mexico Community College. Awad said she hopes to become a journalist someday and plans to release another book this year about bullying.

“We need to have more awareness,” she said. “We need to feel for one another and have some humanity.”

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