A: Your website says that at age 7 you moved to Abidjan, and lived there for 3 years. Does that time of your life impact your writing? And, if so, how does it affect your writing?
S: Living in Abidjan during the formative years of my childhood didn’t just affect my writing—it set the trajectory of the rest of my life. The years my family lived there contributed directly to my decision to study public health and work on international health projects in Africa. Those years—nearly two decades—as an international health program manager gave me the inspiration and material to write The Civilized World.
A: How does your background and experience in international health help to shape your fiction?
S: The Civilized World is a novel in stories, so it’s fiction, of course. And it doesn’t directly deal with the public health issues I encountered in my work. I was more interested in exploring day-to-day life of Africans and how the continent is changing, how urbanization and development are unraveling the traditional fabric of life.
A: Your website says that it was during your second stay in Abidjan that you started writing fiction. Is Abidjan a strong focus or influence in your stories? Does it serve as a setting in your stories?
S: Abidjan is one, but certainly not the only, focus or influence for my writing. The first story in The Civilized World is set in Abidjan, and touches on the “anti-foreigner” sentiment that’s at the root of the current upheaval there. But the other stories are set in places I also got to know first-hand, like Ghana, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.
A: What drove you to write The Civilized World?
S: I wanted to write a book that provided a different perspective than the news reports Americans hear about Africa. In a way, Americans have become immune to the stories about AIDS and civil wars. I wanted my book to focus instead on the day-to-day lives of African women, as well as American expatriate women living in Africa.
A: What is your strongest inspiration for writing?
S: It depends on what I’m writing. My inspiration for The Civilized Worldcame from people I knew and stories I’d heard while living overseas. The novel I’m working on now was inspired by a woman and daughter I knew when I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic in the early 1990s. If I ever finish that one and write another, I’ll probably be about something else entirely. Really, inspiration is everywhere: I recently wrote a short story inspired by my dog.
A: What do you hope readers take away or learn after reading your novel?
S: I hope they walk away realizing that the cultural differences between people in Africa and elsewhere are outweighed by the things they have in common. Regardless of where we come from or where we live, we all have similar hopes and fears and dreams.
Susi is the author of the recently released book The Civilized World, a novel-in-stories set in Africa and the U.S. Susi’s stories (including some from her book) have been featured in a host of different journals including Bellevue Literary Review, Bellingham Review, and The Massachusetts Review. Susi is currently an editor at Jhpiego, a Baltimore-based international health organization.
Susi will be doing a reading of her novel on Wednesday, April 27th at Montgomery College, Rockville campus in the Humanities Building room 111 at 6:30 p.m.