Go to content, skip over navigation


More Pages

Go to content, skip over visible header bar
Home News Features Arts & Entertainment Sports OpinionAbout Contact Advertise

Note about Unsupported Devices:

You seem to be browsing on a screen size, browser, or device that this website cannot support. Some things might look and act a little weird.

Mona Awad’s “fantastical” world of surreal horror fiction

February 22, 2024

Joy Wang
KEEPING IT SURREAL: Writer Mona Awad speaks with students in Hubbard Hall's Shannon Room. Based in Boston, Awad has authored four books and is an assistant professor of creative writing at Syracuse University.

On Wednesday afternoon, students and faculty gathered in the Shannon Room for the latest installment of the Alpha Delta Phi Society’s Visiting Writers Series: a reading from novelist Mona Awad.

Standing before a packed room—many attendees were forced to sit on the floor—Awad read excerpts from her second novel, “Bunny,” that highlighted her eerie, arresting prose and trademark wit. Following the reading, Awad answered questions from the audience about her writing process and the inspiration for various elements of her books.

Awad’s work offers terrifying yet humorous takes on femininity, obsession, beauty standards and privilege, told through the perspective of characteristically untrustworthy protagonists. Throughout her four books—“13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl,” “Bunny,” “All’s Well” and “Rouge”—Awad’s female protagonists journey through disorienting worlds that blend horror, fantastical elements and the real world.

During the Q&A, many audience members’ questions focused on the surrealism present in Awad’s work. Colleen Doucette ’24 mentioned that this ambiguity toward reality was part of what fascinated her most about the author’s work.

“I think it was really interesting to hear about the way that [Awad] writes in terms of viewing things as ‘real.’ Even though she wants that ambiguity to be there. She wants it to be able to be fantastical in the sense of ‘there is no right answer either way,’” Doucette said.

Awad spoke during the Q&A of her intention to construct an ambivalent reality in her fiction.

“There’s a lot of tension in horror between ‘Did it really happen?’ or ‘Is it in your head?’ That’s the [idea of] the fantastical—is it literal or is it metaphorical?” she said. “All readings are valid. That’s what excites me.”

Many of the students attending had read one of Awad’s novels in a class this semester. Professor of English Brock Clarke, who introduced Awad on Wednesday, taught “Rouge” in his introductory and advanced fiction workshops, while students in Associate Professor of English Hilary Thompson’s New Modes of Magic course read “Bunny.”

Isabelle Rivera Gandrung ’26, a member of Clarke’s introductory workshop, spoke about her experience reading “Rouge” and learning from Awad as a new writer.

“You’re listening to the author talk and being like, ‘Well, do I want to write like this?’ or comparing your style to hers,” Gandrung said.

Maddy Kosmoski ’27, a student in New Modes of Magic, echoed Doucette’s fascination with ambiguity in Awad’s writing and added that it was refreshing to hear the author speak to some of the questions that had been discussed in class.

“We had a lot of debates about what certain things meant, and it was cool to hear her affirm that [and say] ‘That’s exactly what I was going for,’” Kosmoski said. “Everything can be interpreted in so many ways. Especially with the way she writes, you never know what’s actually happening, it’s so difficult to determine what’s real—I mean, her narrators are so unreliable.”

Awad spoke directly to this element of her writing in one of her responses.

“I use my unreliable narrator a lot…. I limit myself to their perspective and see the world through their eyes. That’s my compass,” she said.

In addition to the book talk, Awad also visited Clarke’s advanced workshop earlier in the afternoon, offering students a chance to ask her more in-depth questions about fiction writing.

“It’s always good to hear a writer read from and talk about their own work—so that student writers can hear how something is put together, over years of conception, drafting, rewriting. My hope is that it encourages students to press on with their own work,” Clarke wrote in an email to the Orient.

Awad offered lighthearted advice to any aspiring writers in the room—specifically, those interested in writing horror or surrealist fiction.

“Anyone who’s interested in delving into fairy tales, into the surreal … just remember to have fun,” she said.

Following the talk, students had the opportunity to purchase Awad’s novels or bring their own copies to be signed by the author.

“I love when authors come to Bowdoin. I think the English department has been doing a really fantastic job with the [Alpha Delta Phi] Visiting Writers,” Ben Norwood ’25 said. “I went to a lot of [talks] last year and last semester and every time they knock it out of the park—Mona Awad was great.”


Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.

Leave a Reply

Any comments that do not follow the policy will not be published.

0/200 words