Welcome to the next installment of SJFA’s Voices of Social Justice Series. I first met my dear friend Susan nearly a decade ago. I had the great honor of teaching her daughter Jane as a 6th grader. Jane is all grown up now — amazing that we are now the same age. I was immediately drawn to Susan and her family because of the wonderful energy they all have. Susan has such a sense of activism and social justice, fighting for equality for all. We see this in her latest historical novel for young adults called Love and Haight, which has been nominated for both an Amelia Bloomer Award and a YALSA Award . Susan was kind enough to visit with me about the book. What motivated you to write Love and Haight?
It started out—well I always wanted to be a hippie, but I was born a little too late. I had a long time fascination about what it would be like to be a hippie. It started as a valentine to that time and place. I grew up in San Francisco. I thought about what it would be like to be a 17-year-old girl who was pregnant but did not want to be pregnant and it takes place before Roe v. Wade. The novel is more about making adult choices than about abortion and deciding what choices are right for her.
I know you graduated from Lewis and Clark College, but went to Reed College as well. Reed is known for being exceedingly progressive. Is Dr. Reed in the novel named for Reed college because he is so progressive?
Reed is the school and the progressive doctor both, but I totally created him from my mind. I graduated from Lewis and Clark in communications and political science. I took dance classes at Reed.
Did you intentionally anthropomorphize the different medical facilities?
Yes, they do take on the feel of actual characters. As a woman you enter a clinic and it does become a kind of home. The way it looks, the way it feels, the way it smells make such a huge difference on how you feel about the place. I spent a great deal of time in hospitals when my daughter was quite sick. I had time to think and reflect about these places as more than just a cipher—these are very important places.
Was there a particular part of the book that was very difficult to write? (Spoiler Alert! You may want to skip the next paragraph if you have not read the book already.)
I found the idea of how women had to jump through so many hoops to get the permission from a committee — that this was going on in my lifetime. The most difficult part to write about was the actual procedure itself. There are very few books that actually talk about abortion. I thought if I’m going to talk about her having an abortion it was important to make it real.
Had you contemplated an alternate ending?
Initially it was Chloe’s mother that was having the abortion and Chloe was looking at issues around her sexuality. Eventually, I felt that since I’m throwing a hot potato into the mix, I should just address the 17-year-old having an abortion. I wanted it to end with you are not judged by a single decision. Even if it is difficult, you can make a hard decision and still have a happy life [Susan says emphatically].
When asked about women like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin who are so anti-woman, Susan replied that:
What is so interesting is that we are here 40 years later and things are so much the same. It is not just women like Bachmann and Palin — it is our culture. There is a movie I saw about five years ago called Knocked Up and they don’t even use the word abortion. The word abortion is so toxic in our culture. It is not just the extremists, it is also just mainstream. For Chloe, she had people who supported her, even her mother was not judgmental. What good can come of shame? It is so counterproductive. It seems that what many people need is acceptance and celebration and not shaming.
I could not agree more. Shaming does nothing helpful or productive. Susan, thank you for your strong voice and for your literature and activism. I only hope that Love and Haight becomes mandatory reading in schools across the country. I strongly encourage everyone to buy a copy of Love and Haight. Click here to read a great book review from the Examiner.