Tag Archives: Reed College

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Author Susan Carlton

8 Aug

Author Susan Carlton

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.

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Respecting James Beard’s Legacy

21 Apr

Great Chef, Gay Pioneer

Growing up, I knew who James Beard was in a casual sort of way. He was a famous chef who wrote cookbooks and appeared on television. I didn’t fully appreciate his significance, nor did I know how much we had in common. Recent events made me take another look at the great man and want to celebrate his legacy.

Beard was born in Portland, OR in 1903. He lived in my home state until he was in his 20s and had a great appreciation for the beauty of the Oregon coast. He also developed a great love of food, encouraged by his parents’ fondness for fresh ingredients and quality cooking.

He was also gay, a fact he realized by the age of seven and something he never tried to hide. This was very remarkable for his generation. He was kicked out of Reed College in 1922 because he was gay. (Anyone familiar with this quality school’s reputation for embracing the counter-culture will find that as strange and disappointing as I did.) I grew up gay in Oregon in the 70s and that was hard enough. Even though my grandmother says she knew I was gay when I was little, I buried myself in denial. While that spared me some of the difficulty that Beard encountered, I do regret the years I lost by not being able to be myself. Having discovered our shared roots, sexual orientation, love of good food, and enjoyment of Oregon’s coast, I wanted to know more.

I learned that he was interested in the theater, so he joined a traveling troupe. He honed his singing voice and his craft while enjoying the great food of Europe. He particularly fell in love with French cuisine. After Beard returned to the U.S., he found his acting ambitions frustrated, so he turned to his lifelong love and opened a catering company. He quickly rose to fame, appearing on television shows and publishing influential books on cooking. Just as Julia Child helped introduce French cooking to American homes, James Beard helped create the notion of truly American fine cuisine. As Child herself observed:

Beard was the quintessential American cook. Well-educated and well-traveled during his eighty-two years, he was familiar with many cuisines but he remained fundamentally American. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a big belly, and huge hands. An endearing and always lively teacher, he loved people, loved his work, loved gossip, loved to eat, loved a good time.

He was also a philanthropist, helping found CityMeals-on-Wheels to feed the homebound elderly in New York, where he lived most of his adult life. After his death at the age of 82 (his ashes were scattered near Gearhart on the Oregon Coast), his friends and admirers — led by Julia Child — converted his home into a foundation. The James Beard Foundation provides scholarships to aspiring food professionals and champions the American culinary tradition that Beard helped create. Since 2001 the Beard Foundation has awarded over $2.2 million in scholarships and tuition waivers to young culinarians and career changers pursuing culinary studies.

The Foundation was rocked by scandal in 2004 and its head was imprisoned for grand larceny. The entire board resigned and the Foundation started from scratch under the leadership of Susan Ungaro. For her work in turning around the Foundation and her support of young Americans hoping to pursue a culinary education, Ungaro was recently honored with the Distinguished Citizen Award by the Boy Scouts of America. Ironically, that same group is notoriously anti-gay and would never have associated with the great James Beard. After being reminded by activist and commentator Michelangelo Signorile about the Scouts’ policies, Ungaro did the right thing: she refused the award.

While I support all the poverty and hunger-fighting programs of the Boy Scouts of America, including sending at-risk youth to camp, your report brought to my attention that accepting the Distinguished Citizen Award implied I support their anti-gay policy, which I absolutely do not… I have informed the Boy Scouts of America that I am rescinding my acceptance of the award.

Brava, Ms. Ungaro! Thank you for standing up against bravery and truly honoring the legacy of James Beard, whose foundation you lead. I’m sure he’s lifting a glass of wine in your honor with his trademark grin.

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