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Thoughts in Flow

An Interview with Suzanne Hudson

by Charlotte J. Robertson

 
 

Brad Watson, finalist for the 2003 National Book Awards, described her writing as “Bawdy, grotesque, beautiful, gruesome, ribald, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny…” Suzanne Hudson has demanded the respect of readers of Southern Literature in her novel In a Temple of TreesWatson continues, “Such is the paradox of Hudson’s novel, a deeply dark, often absurd but always true vision of the ugly, old racist South.  Hudson is fearless in confronting the awful verities of a past and present most would like to forget or ignore.  Not a book for those prone, in her words, to ‘getting the vapors,’ but brilliant in its exploration of a society’s self-loathing, tempered by the refusal of a courageous few to let evil win out.” 

This author, bold with her words, was timid when I first met her 4 years ago at a party of literati in Fairhope, Alabama.  The protégé of Sonny Brewer, Suzanne was just before being reborn.  After a hiatus from the writing world which overwhelmed her with a zealous welcome following her garnering of $5,500 as the first-place winner in Penthouse Magazine’s  international short story contest judged by such authors as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Toni Morrison, Hudson has reemerged with humor as seen in “Fall of the Nixon Administration” published in Stories from the Blue Moon Café: I, with versatility in her short story collection, Opposable Thumbs – evocative of Flannery O’Connor at her best, and with lyrical prose darker than Faulkner at his darkest in her current novel. 

Suzanne’s pieces have also appeared in: Penthouse, New Writers, Eastern Shore Quarterly, and The Southern Bard.  In addition to the Penthouse Award, she has also won a Hackney Award from Birmingham-Southern for short fiction.  Opposable Thumbs was a John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist, and Temple of Trees received a validation as it was picked by MystNoir, a web book club that only chooses mysteries by or about African Americans. 

 

When were you first aware of your writing talent?

My high school English teacher, Florence Fouts, wrote nice things on my papers.  I thought, at the time, that she did this on everyone’s papers.  I took a Short Story class at the University of South Alabama in which the professor gave us the choice of doing a critique on an existing short story or writing an original as our final.  As the result of his esteem for the short story I chose to write, he referred me to the class of my writing professor, John Craig Stewart who gave me strong encouragement.  His class was a positive writing experience in which we students read our work aloud in a relaxed atmosphere.  Sonny Brewer was in this class with me. 

When were you first published?

My first story was published when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Alabama.  It was published in New Writers literary magazine based in New York.

Speak to us on the Penthouse New Writers Award.

Sonny Brewer brought to class a Penthouse magazine offering real money, $5,500, for the winner of a short story contest and we all entered.  After a while, I heard that I was one of 12 finalists in the competition.  It wasn’t long after that publishers and agents began to call.   William Gay teases me about coming out ahead of him and Sonny in this contest which he also entered. 

What happened as a result of that contest?

I contracted Ellen Levine to represent me as my agent.  I had written a novel, Salvation, which she shopped in New York.  I had an offer from a publisher who wanted to publish this novel with changes.  I was intimidated by the whole publishing world and backed off for about 25 years. 

What did you do for those 25 years? 

I taught in Georgia for a year and taught English and Literature in Mobile and Baldwin Counties of Alabama.  I married and had a son, Hudson Lewis, who is now a student at Faulkner State Community College.  I am now divorced and serve as a guidance counselor in addition to teaching.    

So, how is it that we now have your excellent writing to enjoy? 

My old friend from writing class, Sonny Brewer, had gotten involved in the publishing business and convinced Joe Taylor of Livingston Press to publish Opposable Thumbs, a collection of my short stories in 2001.  Sonny also included my short story “The Fall of the Nixon Administration” in the anthology, Stories from the Blue Moon Café, and “The Seamstress” in Blue Moon II.  I will be included in an offspring of the Blue Moon anthologies with the working title, The Alumni Grille – also the brainchild of Sonny to be published by MacAdams/Cage.  David Poindexter of MacAdams/Cage is the publisher of the Blue Moon series and liked my work.  When we took Blue Moon I on the road with a kickoff at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, David let me know he was interested in publishing me, and I’d always wanted to write a story inspired by the murder of the woman at a hunting camp near my home town of Brewton, Alabama – thus the conception of In a Temple of Trees. 

Tell more about how In a Temple of Trees got its beginning. 

My gentleman friend, Ben, and I were riding in the car, listening to a radio preacher when he went missing in the middle of programming.  We began to fictionalize where he’d gone and I realized this was the making of a novel.  I tied in the imagined story of what had happened at a hunting camp near Brewton when I was 12 or 13.  Prominent men of the community had had whiskey and women at the hunting camp and one woman was abused to the point of death.  I thought it extremely unjust and sad that the case was hushed up and never went to court.  Having grown up in the culture represented in the novel, it was easy to imagine a group of men out of control – operating with a pack mentality. 

What has been the reaction of Brewton to In a Temple of Trees? 

Most of the rumored participants are deceased.  The reaction of the community has been mixed – most of the young people would like to see justice done while the older generation expresses a desire to let the past die.  I became more involved in the facts of the inspiring story after the children of the woman who died came to one of my readings.  Looking into the facts, I’ve theorized what I believe to be the truth regarding what is 100 times worse than what I had imagined.  I am intrigued by the story and, through research, would really like to vindicate the woman who died. 

How do you juggle your career as an educator and your career as a writer? 

I do most of my writing in the summers and on weekends.  When I can, I go into seclusion with my dog in a rustic cabin in Pickens. 

In talking with one of your creative writing students, the daughter of John Sledge, Book Editor for the Mobile Register, I was told what a super teacher you are.  Describe your creative writing classes.
 
I have a group of 16 very talented 7th graders – none of whom are students assigned to me in my role of guidance counselor.   I will have the same group for a second year in the 2004-2005 school term.  The class is an elective and the students must be recommended.  My main goal with these kids is to teach them to let their thoughts flow without getting bogged down by the nit-picking details, which can be addressed in the rewrite.


 
In a Temple of Trees
by Suzanne Hudson
MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 2003
Hardcover, $23.00 (355 pages)
ISBN: 1931561419

       Southern Scribe Review

Opposable Thumbs
by Suzanne Hudson
Livingston Press, 2001
Paperback, $12.95 (146 pages)
ISBN: 0-942979-81-8

      Southern Scribe Review

 

Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe' II:
Anthology of Southern Writers
Edited by Sonny Brewer
MacAdam/Cage, 2003
Hardcover, $25.00 (362 pages)
ISBN: 1-931561-43-5

    Southern Scribe Review

Stories from the Blue Moon Café:
Anthology of Southern Writers
edited by Sonny Brewer
MacAdam/Cage, 2002
Hardcover, $25.00 (385p)
ISBN: 1-931561-09-5

    Southern Scribe Review

 

 

© 2003, Charlotte J. Robertson, All Rights Reserved