Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Member Interview: Susan Hansen

This month we welcome Austin SCBWI member Susan Hansen to our interview series.  

Susan is the author of From Behind All the Veils: The Story of Táhirih (TAH-heh-ray)—“poet, champion of education for girls and the emancipation of women, the first woman to believe in the Bab,” of the Bahá’í faith. (Available on Amazon and illustrated by Susan Reed.) You can find Susan on her blogs or Twitter @susanhansen63

Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?

I was born in Iran and emigrated to the United States at the age of 15. Later as a young adult I lived in Venezuela for twelve years and had my four children there. So I am from all these places and have love and loyalties for each one. My Iranian soul has deep attachments to family, reverence and the notion of sacrifice; my intellectual life has been shaped by my American education and thrives on curiosity and the pursuit of life’s big questions; and my Latin heart is fed by the strong bonds of friendship that have endured distance and time. My hope is that my varied cultural experiences can provide me with the ability to tell stories from varied points of view.

Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?

My first memories of writing are about stories and poems (bad poems!) when I was in fourth grade. I wrote short stories in college and early adulthood. But I never took myself seriously. For a long time I was waiting for someone, some infallible authority to pronounce me a writer. It has only been in the last five to ten years that I have come to embrace my identity as a writer, whether I was published or not, especially since I teach student writers and my goal for them is to see themselves as one every day.

If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?

I teach reading and writing to fourth graders who are learning in English and Spanish. So my weekdays are spent encouraging and finding strengths in each of my students. I am involved with a lot of community service through my faith, the Bahá’í Faith. Most days when I get home, I either have a study group with mothers around child education, a character education class with small children in our community, or working with young people who are mentoring middle schoolers. I try to find time to read something every day. I have a book that I read while eating breakfast, another one by my bedside, and I keep a different book in each bathroom in the house! My goal is to also write every day. That doesn’t happen all the time. But I look forward to when I have a story idea and I can work on it till it’s done.

How does your everyday life feed your work?

I work with children, so yes, my everyday life does feed my writing work. I try to write about teaching and learning and the state of our educational system as often as possible. Writing about teaching helps me refine my thinking and hence my practice. Also, children provide the best lines! I try to collect their unique language and use them in the stories that I write.

 Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.

I am proud of my four children. Raising them has been the most fulfilling work I have done. I am also proud of the opportunity to teach children every day. I am proud to be part of a profession that is contributing to the constructive forces of our society.

 What surprises you about the creative life?

It surprised me that you could learn to be creative, that creativity is not the domain of a chosen few. It is true that some people are more creative than others, but I have come to believe that it can be nurtured and taught to all of us. In fact, the arts are necessary for all of us to be more complete human beings.

 When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they will find?

I try to write stories that appeal to the overarching oneness of us. My book From Behind All the Veils: The Story of Táhirih is about an nineteenth century Iranian poet and champion of women’s rights. It is set in a time and a place little known to Western audiences, but I think when children and adults read it they will connect to the universal story of the struggle for freedom and equality that knows no boundary.


QuickFire Questions:

1. What have you learned from teaching children?

 That they are capable of understanding way more than we give them credit for.

2. If you could time travel, would you rather visit a day in the past, or a day in the future?

 I would want to travel to a day in the future, to see how we resolved all the problems in this world.

3. Would you rather be a shape-shifter or a mind-shifter?

I would rather be a mind-shifter, always advancing my understanding of the world around me. 

Note: apropos question—Susan often retweets @MindShiftKQED

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