Quick Questions: Professor Suzanne Greenberg

By Alexa Moreno

Long Beach State professor Suzanne Greenberg, a member of the English department, uses her own writing experience to guide students in her creative writing classes. Her work, which includes the books Lesson Plans and Speed-Walk and Other Stories, ranges from short stories to children’s literature.

We sat down with Greenberg and discovered more about one of the university’s esteemed faculty members.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

“I think that, like a lot of writers, I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else--except for little kid aspirations, like “maybe I’ll be a veterinarian because I love animals,” but I didn’t really have any aptitude for veterinary science and I always loved listening and eavesdropping when I was a kid and writing silly poems, but I became serious about becoming a writer when I went to college.”  

When did you know you wanted to be a teacher? Was it always in your plans?

“I had decided I was going to be a writer and majored in creative writing...when I got out, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I was a vegetarian working at a barbecue place and then I worked in publishing, where I had some really interesting jobs, but I decided to pursue teaching instead and went back to graduate school to get my MFA and teach college.”  

Are you working on a project right now? If so, can you tell me about it?

“I just finished a really big revision of a project... I just finished it yesterday... We’ll see what happens. It was a book, so that’s off with my agent now. I am working on something else which is another kind of novel that I am writing as pretty independent stories that are connected.”

What is your advice for people who want to become authors?

“My advice is to also find other things you love because you can’t put your value on being published. Writers have so many pieces that get rejected. Even people who you read about becoming overnight successes probably have rejections on the way. My advice is to make sure you really want to do it and work hard at it and be a good reader. Love writing, love reading, and love your life and don’t feel like your worth is associated with being published. In terms of making a living, it’s tough. It’s very rare that writers make a living off writing, so you kind of have to figure out how to balance that.”

What inspires you when you are writing?

“Sometimes I’m inspired by something I see in the world. It’s usually something that will kind of haunt me, not like a ghost haunts you, but like a “why do I keep thinking about that person that I saw at the park?” So, I’ll have like the image of something that kind of bothers me and I’ll just kind of be playing around with it. Sometimes I start with a couple of sentences that sound fun and play with it, but rarely anything more than that. Like with Lesson Plans, there was a couple that I used to see at a playground where I took my kids when they were little, and I just thought they were so interesting. They had two children and I turned it into three and they became characters in my book. I didn’t know anything about them, but I thought they were so interesting.”

What is your ultimate goal when it comes to writing?

“I think truthfully, as writer, I don’t have that one thing... I think sometimes I write something that I just feel really good about and that’s great. In a practical way, it’s really fun to see your book in bookstores. It feels like an accomplishment when someone you don’t know reads something you wrote and maybe sends you an email about it letting you know about something they got out of it. I think though, as a writer, it’s more than the outside stuff, it’s more about knowing that you wrote something that makes you happy... It can happen without anyone knowing and that’s what matters to a writer. It keeps you going.”

What is your favorite book right now?

“I read Little Fires Everywhere [by Celeste Ng] this summer and really liked it. I thought it was hard to put down and well-written and explored some really interesting characters. I really enjoyed it.”

Are there any books or short stories you wish you had written?

“All the time. All the time. I wish I had written things. One of my favorite books of all time is the first novel by a writer named Michael Cunningham called A Home at the End of the World. I know I couldn’t have written it, it’s just so beautiful, but that’s sort of my aspiration.”

What do you love about CSULB’s campus?

“I love teaching at Cal State Long Beach. I always tell people that the thing about teaching at Cal State Long Beach is that we have the most diverse, in every way, student population. Geographically they may mostly come from Southern California, but not really. They come from all over the world, have different socioeconomic backgrounds, and they bring all kinds of experiences. When you teach creative writing, you just couldn’t have a better group of students.”  

Who is easier to write for: children or adults?

“They are just such different audiences. The children’s books were such an anomaly for me. I wrote them with my colleague, Lisa Glatt, and we tried it together. I’ve only written [children’s literature] as a co-author…it was a different kind of writing. So, it wasn’t easier, but definitely more social. However, my usual writing, where it’s more natural for me, is for adults.”