Novelist, author, journalist, public speaker, inadvertent humorist.
SUSAN JANE GILMAN. Made, born, raised in New York City, I currently reside mostly in Europe, where my hobbies include hypochondria, saying pretentious things about wine, and annoying the Swiss.
I’ve always loved telling stories and wanted to be an author ever since I was a child. When I attended Stuyvesant High School as a teenager, I had the great good fortune to have Frank McCourt as my English teacher. He became my mentor and is largely to blame now for my being a writer.
THE BASIC RESUME: In addition to my books, I’ve contributed to numerous anthologies and written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Ms., The Daily Beast, Real Simple, Washington City Paper, and Us among others. In my first full-time job as a reporter, I won a New York Press Association Award for features written on assignment overseas in Poland. My short fiction has appeared in many literary journals including Story, Ploughshares, and the Greensboro Review, which awarded me its 1998 Literary Award for short fiction. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. You can access the TEDx talk I gave on the writing process, “There is No Lightning Bolt,” here.
Being a writer means you have to hustle to make a living in order to do your own creative work on the side. And so, I’ve proudly taught writing and literature at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University; been an inept cocktail waitress; worked as a Washington speechwriter; and served as a communications peon for a U.S. member of Congress which, as I recount in my memoir Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, was abject misery.,
TELEVISION: Contrary to popular belief, being a guest on television does not guarantee you instant riches or fame— only criticism about your hair from relatives. I’ve appeared on “The Today Show” twice, as well as on “ABC World News”; “Good Morning NY”; “WGN-America”; WCAU-TV “The 10!” in Philadelphia; “AM Northwest” on ABC in Portland, OR; NBC affiliates in New Haven & Seattle; “Connie Martinson Talks Books”; “The Iyanla Show”; “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”
RADIO: For five years, I was a commentator for National Public Radio and co-hosted “Bookmark,” a monthly book show on World Radio Switzerland. I’ve been a guest on dozens of radio shows across U.S. and Australia, including WNYC’s “Leonard Lopate Show,” WGN in Chicago, and Pacifica Radio in Berkeley.
INSPIRATIONS: My first novel, “The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street” was born out of my total obsession with ice cream and my desire to write a really delicious, nasty, female anti-hero. As part of my research, I worked at a Carvel Ice Cream store in Massapequa, Long Island for two days and took a gelato-making course at the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy.
Although it’s being praised as “lung-bustlingly funny,” my new novel, “Donna Has Left the Building” took root from much darker stuff. Living in Europe, I’ve had a front-row seat for the current refugee crisis — the biggest displacement of people since WWII. As an American and a descendant of refugees and immigrants myself, I felt it was incumbent on me to help out in whatever small way I could. Inspiration for “Donna Has Left the Building,” grew out of volunteer work I’ve been doing at the Eleonas Refugee Camp in Athens, Greece. Recently, in fact, I had the honor to write a forward for a cookbook, Recipes Welcome, compiled by residents of the camp from fourteen different countries, featuring the delicious and easy-to-make recipes they’ve carried with them from around the globe. All proceeds from the cookbook benefit the camp, and it can be purchased by clicking on the title above. (So far, it’s only available via Amazon.)
FUNNY BUT… I never set out to write books that made people laugh. My main love has always been literary fiction. However, even with my most serious work, people would always tell me that parts of it were funny. This annoyed me because I aspired to be an American Dostoevsky with Breasts.
Yet when I was living in Washington DC, I took a writers’ workshop at the Bethesda Writers’ Center. The first story I submitted was a heartbreaking tale of a man’s addiction, which impressed the class. The second was an absurd story about mistaken identity full of Jews, Rastafarians, lesbians, and dental hygienists. To my great irritation, the class liked this one infinitely more. After class, a man pulled me aside. “I have to tell you,” he said. “My wife has been battling breast cancer. I read her your story last night, and it was the first time in two years she really laughed. You’ve got a gift. Please don’t ignore it. Not everyone can make a sick woman laugh in her hospital bed.” That’s when I finally saw the merit in my own, lurking smart-ass and stopped fighting it.
I don’t mean to be funny. It’s just that the world is patently absurd.
Top right photo: Private family collection. Bottom left photo: Guillaume Megevand