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LAist Interview: Susan Straight

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Southern California is so big that it's easy to lose sight of all its treasures, especially living ones. In our myopia, we tend to think that most writers identified with our region all live west of I-15 and south of I-405. Novelist Susan Straight challenges that presumption just as her work challenges so many other notions about race, class and Californian culture.

A lifelong resident of Riverside, Susan has authored five novels, including "Highwire Moon," a National Book Award nominee. Her essays have been featured on NPR and published in Harper's Magazine, The New York Times,, and Family Circle. Susan's latest novel, "A Million Nightengales," debuted last week. Fans can meet Susan at Vroman's in Pasadena on March 31, 2005 at 7 PM. Skylight Books on Vermont Ave will also have a book signing for Susan on April 8th at 5 PM.

Below, Susan provides her LAist Interview from a Riverside perspective.

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Age and Occupation:
I am 45, and I’ve taught Creative Writing at UC Riverside for 17 years.

How long have you lived in Riverside, and which neighborhood do you live in?:
I was born in Riverside, in the community hospital which is three blocks from where I live. I have lived in Riverside all my life, except for four years in LA when I went to USC and two years in Amherst, Massachusetts for graduate school. I live a few blocks or a couple of miles from most of my friends and family.

Why do you live in southern California? Why do you live in Riverside?
I live in Riverside for several reasons. One might be that I’m a big chicken and afraid to live anywhere else, since I have a safety net here, and I love my family so much. But one is also that I think landscape and weather and this place are genetically embedded in me now, so even though there is smog and fire and bleakness, there is also the sound of the wind I’m used to, and the way the sky looks in February, and the pepper trees and citrus groves I couldn’t live without. After the wind blows, it looks like our yards are filled with pepper berries and bougainvillea blossoms and palm bark – like a strange potpourri.

I am also raising three daughters here, and they might not stay forever, but they are comfortable with their heritage here, where so many people are of mixed race, and they have family. They like the river and the mountains and the trees, too. Plus, we have chickens. I don’t know that we could have chickens anywhere.

author photo (c) Dan Chavkin