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Student Success

Howling Success: Kiran Soma

Kiran Soma holds a red, white and black banner that reads "Howling Success" in the lobby of Thompson Theatre

During a trip to New York City with the University Honors Program, Kiran Soma (Chemistry, Communication Media ’24) saw Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning play, Leopoldstadt, on Broadway. The story follows a Jewish family in Austria from 1899-1955 and their relationships and experiences over the course of two world wars and the Holocaust. As he watched in the audience, Soma began to reflect on his own family’s experiences, which immigrated to the United States from India following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.

Just a few months later, Soma was submitting his original play for Arts NC State’s Creative Artist Award in Theatre — which he won earlier this year.

“Being able to see on Broadway how a different playwright was able to grapple with these issues that related to their identity is what inspired me to write my own play,” Soma said. “I conceived the very first scene of my play as soon as I got back from the trip. I didn’t plan to submit it for the Creative Artist Award at that point in time, but everything just sort of fell into place.”

Soma’s play, entitled What We Grew Up With, follows an Indian family who immigrated to the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The story takes place over the ensuing 20-30 years and chronicles their encounters with racism, estrangement and xenophobia. University Theatre assistant director Mia Self noted that “Kiran’s play is a sophisticated piece with a multi-dimensional lead character, a strong journey from beginning to end, and a lovely invitation to the audience to an experience that might be different from their own, but may well mirror life in their own experiences of growing up.”

While writing the play, Soma reflected on his own family’s experiences and consulted several friends to incorporate as many perspectives as possible. He admits that he is still working on the ending since many of the issues presented in the play remain problematic today. 

“Creating this play is a way to practice social advocacy for causes I believe in,” Soma said. “It’s a way to open conversations with other people who may not have heard the story of someone who looks like me. Winning the award was great not only to see my value as a writer, but also to see my value as a leader and change-maker.”

As the 2023 Creative Artist Award winner in Theatre, Soma can now share his play with the wider NC State community. This spring, he is giving public readings as part of University Theatre’s The Wright Way series, with the next one taking place on Friday, April 7. This fall, University Theatre will produce his play, and he will help oversee the casting, prop design and other aspects of the show. 

Kiran in New York City

Although this is Soma’s first recognized work, he has been writing poetry, short stories and scripts since high school. He also worked in University Theatre’s costume shop during his sophomore year and looks forward to now leading the production process. 

“Theatre gives such a great opportunity to bring to light really important issues through storytelling,” Soma said. “Being able to share the creative visions of myself and others is one of the best parts of University Theatre and the Creative Artist Award at NC State.”

Playwriting is just one of Soma’s many talents. He is a Park Scholar and member of the University Honors Program, and through his chemistry major, he completed an internship with Gilead’s medicinal chemistry team last summer. Although he plans to enter the chemistry field after graduation, he also has plans to incorporate his communications degree.

“I’m really interested in improving communications between scientists, professionals and the public,” Soma said. “I want to make a difference, whether it be helping in that realm or helping to increase the number of underrepresented communities that are able to study science and enter the field.”

The Howling Success award recognizes undergraduate students for their outstanding work in campus leadership, community service and other areas in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. If you know someone you consider a Howling Success, nominate them here:

This post was originally published in DASA.