Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Interview With Susan Rich

Photo Credit: Kelli Russell Agodon

Susan Rich, writer, professor and film lover has faced and overcome many obstacles in her long journey that led her to be the successful woman she is today.

Susan was born in Boston where she later attended the University of Massachusetts.

At the age of 19, she moved to England to study her Junior year at the University of Lancaster.

Soon after, she chose to drop out of college but was so fond of her new home that she decided to stay for a year longer than she had originally planned.

After moving to Scotland for a year, she discovered her immense passion for traveling.

“I realized how much I enjoyed traveling and moving around,” she said.

Her desire for change then led her back to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing.

"As an undergraduate, I didn't really see the point of investing in my education. How was Botany going to help me become a writer? It's ironic that in order to graduate from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst on-time, I needed to do the Honors Program. Honors meant I could skip taking Mathematics and a few other college requirements. I kept my grades up simply because I wanted to graduate early. Five years later, when I decided to apply to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, those grades are what helped me get accepted! And then, six years after that, I won a full scholarship to study Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. How ironic that it all started with my push to get out of college as fast as possible," she said.

However, these weren’t the only reasons she completed her degree. Besides her uncertainty of investing in her education, she had a strong desire to join the Peace Corps, which required a degree.

In her two years in the Peace Corps, she lived in the Republic of Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa.

She then became interested in international work, which led her back to Boston yet again, where she obtained her Master’s Degree in International Education at Harvard University.

After getting her Master’s Degree, she traveled to London, Israel, Palestine, and South Africa to do more work and volunteering.

“I’ve lived in Seattle now for more than 17 years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else,” she said.

Before moving to Seattle, she worked as a Journalist for the Eugene Weekly in Oregon.

An opportunity through the newspaper led her to visit Seattle for the Seattle Book Fair.

“I fell in love with Seattle. I had only been here once before when I wrote my story on trains in the Northwest,” she said.

Soon after, she was offered a job at Highline College as an English Professor, where she has worked for the past 17 years.

“I never really wanted to be a professor and I dropped out of college. I had really wonderful experiences in high school and elementary school, but I didn’t particularly in College,” she said.

Although she graduated college with a Master’s Degree, she faced many obstacles that would later change her life significantly.

“I had two professors when I was an undergraduate who told me I should not become a writer,” she said. “I had not asked for their advice, I had not asked them if I should become a writer, they just felt it upon themselves to let me know that they didn’t think I had what it took.”

She began to feel uncertain about her passion for writing. At first, she listened to what her professors had told her and dedicated her time to volunteering and studying human rights.

“It was at a time in the 1970s when you just listened to old white men who seemed to know better than what you knew and felt for yourself,” she said.  

For some time, she was hindered by her insecurities, but her strength overtook her weaknesses showing her true potential.

After she got her degree at Harvard, started her job at Amnesty International, and became more settled, she decided that she still needed to have some kind of art in her life, so she took a class on watercolor painting.

“I was the worst in the class and I loved that class, I just didn’t care that I was the worst. I would come home and paint for hours,” she said.

The lesson she learned from this class was one so powerful that it had the ability to change her career path. This was the valuable lesson that led her to be a writer after all.

“Something about that class and the pleasure it gave me, made me realize that I was going to write and it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t great, or if nobody thought it was any good,” she said.

A lesson learned from a creative writing class taught by a woman she hardly knew solidified her interest in being a writer even more.

“The teacher had been kind of an outcast and encouraged us to be outcasts as well,” she said. “She made it seem that you didn’t really have to be chosen as a writer. She felt like for whatever reason she wasn’t accepted by the community of poets, so she decided to make her own group of rebels. She was kind of crazy, but I needed it at that point in my life.”

Her desire to be a writer has always lived in her heart, but as she grew older and wiser, she learned the disappointing truth that most writers don’t make a significant living from that itself.

She felt that working at a college would allow her to continue her passion for writing while making a more sustainable living.

However, money wasn’t the key factor in her decision of becoming a professor.
In her time working for Amnesty International, she realized how much she enjoyed working with college and high school students.

“I love the classes I’m teaching now. I love teaching film and I love teaching creative writing,” she said.

“On good days I’m passionate about what I do. If I could be a professor and not have to give grades, we’d all be much happier,” she said.

Susan is also the co-director of a program called Poets on the Coast - A Writing Retreat for Women, which brings more than 30 women together for a weekend to absorb themselves in poetry, talk about the writing community, and practice their work.

She said publishing five books is one of her greatest achievements in life. Four books of poetry and one being an anthology of essays.

“I’m proud of the work I’ve done and I’m proud to be a part of Highline College,” she said.

Susan said she will continue teaching at Highline College, freelance editing, and writing for her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen.

The Alchemist’s Kitchen: http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.com/


  1. Thanks for starting this blog, Kelsey; I'm honored to be your first interview. I so look forward to reading about the next women you choose!

    1. You're very welcome Susan; I am so glad I was able to make you my first interview as well!

  2. What a great interview...so many good messages for other writers to hear through your life experience Susan. Thank you Kelsey for bringing Susan's story to us!

    1. Yvonne, I'm so glad you liked the story. Thank you for taking the time to read Susan's story! There will be many more to come!

  3. Great article! Loved the shout out to elementary and high schools, natch!

    1. Thank you Jordan; glad you liked the article. There are many more to come!