VIRTUAL Q&A

Alta Asks Live: Susan Straight

Author Susan Straight joins Alta Asks Live and host Heather Scott Partington on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. PST.

Take a Wednesday lunch break with your friends at Alta and author Susan Straight. Straight will join Alta Asks Live and host Heather Scott Partington on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. PST to discuss her memoir In the Country of Women, how she’s teaching college courses from home, and the power of generations past. 

Buy the book: In the Country of Women

Read Alta Asks: Talking with Susan Straight

A (partial) list of Straight’s favorite California books and authors: 

Poet Wanda Coleman

Author MFK Fisher

Breathing, in Dust by Tim Z. Hernandez

Author Ella Leffland

Illustrator Ross MacDonald

Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime by Alex Espinoza

Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America by Carolyn See

The Peacock Poems by Shirley Anne Williams

Who is Angelina by Al Young

About the book and author: 

In the Country of Women is a valuable social history and a personal narrative that reads like a love song to America and indomitable women. In inland Southern California, near the desert and the Mexican border, Susan Straight, a self-proclaimed book nerd, and Dwayne Sims, an African American basketball player, started dating in high school. After college, they married and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Straight met her teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, who encouraged her to write. Once back in Riverside, at driveway barbecues and fish fries with the large, close-knit Sims family, Straight—and eventually her three daughters—heard for decades the stories of Dwayne’s female ancestors. Some women escaped violence in post-slavery Tennessee, some escaped murder in Jim Crow Mississippi, and some fled abusive men. Straight’s mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, is the descendant at the heart of this memoir. Susan’s family, too, reflects the hardship and resilience of women pushing onward—from Switzerland, Canada, and the Colorado Rockies to California.

A Pakistani word, biraderi, is one Straight uses to define a complex system of kinship and clan—those who become your family. An entire community helped raise her daughters.

Of her three girls, now grown and working in museums and the entertainment industry, Straight writes, “The daughters of our ancestors carry in their blood at least three continents. We are not about borders. We are about love and survival.”

Susan Straight has published eight novels, including Highwire Moon, Between Heaven and Here, and A Million Nightingales. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Magazine Award. She is the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edgar Award for Best Short Story, the O. Henry Prize, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her stories and essays have been published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Granta, McSweeney’s, Black Clock, Harper’s, and other journals. She is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. She was born in Riverside, where she lives with her family.

About the moderator: 

Heather Scott Partington is a writer, teacher, and book critic. She is the winner of an emerging critic fellowship from the National Book Critics Circle and the critic in residence for UC Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA program. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Los Angeles Review of Books among other publications. She lives in Elk Grove, California, with her husband and two kids.