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Author Ahmed M. Badr discusses life as a refugee at First Year Common Reader event
For too long, the
global conversation around the refugee crisis has excluded the voices of
the refugees themselves. Ahmed M. Badr, an Iraqi American author, poet
and social entrepreneur, is working to change that.
In 2006, Badr’s home in Baghdad was bombed by militia troops. He and
his family relocated to Syria, where they lived as refugees for over two
years before receiving approval to move to the United States. When he
was a teenager, he began to write about his family’s journey.
First-year students at the University of Delaware read Badr’s book,
While the Earth Sleeps We Travel: Stories, Poetry, and Art from Young
Refugees Around the World, prior to arriving on campus this fall. Badr
discussed his book with UD community members on Thursday, Oct. 20, in
“When I was in high school, I struggled to understand what it meant
to be this Iraqi American Muslim refugee,” Badr said. “I wanted to
understand what it was like to claim all of those different identities
and claim them with pride, recognizing the difficulties, the tensions
and the complexities that they contain. And I started to explore that
through writing, through poetry.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Emily Davis (right), associate professor of English, moderates a discussion about the refugee crisis.
A UD tradition administered by the First Year Seminar Program,
the Common Reader provides first-year undergraduates an opportunity to
engage in meaningful conversation with fellow students and to begin to
share in the intellectual life of the entire University community. In
addition to the main speaker event, the Common Reader Program organizes
exhibits and other cultural events around the theme of the book
throughout the first semester.
“It's not a book about refugee stories,” Badr said. “It's a book
about the stories of individuals that happen to be refugees. And that's a
key distinction I'd like us to all keep in mind tonight as we explore
this topic [and] this theme together and amazing individuals that have
experienced displacement, but again, are not defined by that very
Emily Davis, associate professor of English, moderated the discussion.
“When we think about the contemporary climate crisis, and especially
the massive displacements it is producing, our discussions are full of
numbers. But numbers are not enough. We know the numbers, Ahmed reminds
us. But we must know the stories,” Davis said. “Ahmed’s work, and the
work of the Narratio Fellows, highlights how much we need to hear each
As a teen, Badr founded Narratio, an online platform that publishes
the poetry, art and stories of young people across the world, with a
focus on highlighting the voices of refugees and immigrants. In the
summer of 2019, Narratio launched an annual storytelling Fellowship for
resettled refugee youth in partnership with Syracuse University and the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Following the discussion with Badr, four Narratio Fellows shared
their poetry with the audience and answered questions about the
Fellowship and their lives as refugees.
Badr’s book includes poetry, art, photography and narrative; the
works were collected through workshops and interviews in camps,
community centers, sidewalks, coffee shops and parks in Greece, Trinidad
and Tobago, and Syracuse, New York.
“What really captivated me was the fact that he used so many
different mediums to convey the message,” said Sophia DiFabio, a
first-year human services major. “I'm more of a visual person, and art
is really what takes a hold of me and helps me see things clearer. So
being able to see pictures and paintings really just moved me in a way
that writing can't always do.”
Annie Blimmel, a first-year environmental studies major, said the book and the discussion helped her to expand her mind.
“It made me reflect a lot on how sheltered I've been,” she said.
“Even though I may not be a displaced person, I shouldn't shy away or
turn away from people who are, and I should reach out and elevate their
voices and give them a platform to speak. Reading the book opened me up
to that even more. It was just amazing to hear from people and their
stories, which, as they were talking about tonight, often are glossed
Michaela Hodges-Fulton, a first-year neuroscience major, said the
book was easy to connect with because it’s composed of stories of people
who just happen to be refugees, and at the heart of it, they’re just
“The biggest piece I learned tonight is the importance of
storytelling and the importance of being open to hearing stories that
you maybe haven't heard before,” she said.
Eight students were awarded prizes in the 2022 Common Reader Essay
Contest, in response to Badr's book. From left to right: Michaela
Hodges-Fulton (honorable mention), Annie Blimmel (second place), Amelia
Seydel (fourth place), Ahmed M. Badr (Common Reader author), Isabella
Thiele (third place), Hannah Feng (honorable mention), Diya Jackson
(honorable mention) and Sophia DiFabio (honorable mention). Not
pictured: Kabmata Kargbo (first place).
Eight students were awarded prizes in the 2022 Common Reader Essay Contest, in response to Badr's book. The winners are:
First place: Kabmata Kargbo, a nursing major from New Castle, Delaware
Second place: Annie Blimmel, an environmental studies major from Ocean View, Delaware
Third place: Isabella Thiele, a medical diagnostics major from Oak Creek, Wisconsin
Fourth place: Amelia Seydel, an environmental studies major from Long Beach, California
Honorable Mention: Diya Jackson, a marine science major from Clarksville, Maryland
Honorable Mention: Sophia DiFabio, a human services major from Mullica Hill, New Jersey
Honorable Mention: Michaela Hodges-Fulton, a neuroscience major from Reston, Virginia
Honorable Mention: Hannah Feng, a nursing major from Plainsboro, New Jersey
Article by Amy Wolf, photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published October 28, 2022