Adoption of Korean child broadened the world for author Suzanne Paola

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 13, 2014 

Suzanne Paola

Bellingham's Suzanne Paola, who writes under the name Susanne Antonetta, talks about her book "Make Me a Mother." at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 at Village Books, 1200 11th St. The book details her experiences after she and her husband, Bruce Beasley, adopted a 6-month old infant from Seoul, South Korea in 1997.

DAMIAN VINES — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD\

In 1997, Bellingham's Suzanne Paola, who writes under the name Susanne Antonetta, and her husband, Bruce Beasley, adopted a 6-month old infant from Seoul, South Korea.

They all have learned lessons about the idea of family, about how another being can take over one's life, how to let an entire culture in, how to discuss birth parents who have given up a child, and how to navigate the question of race in America.

In the end, her relationship with her son teaches Suzanne to understand her troubled childhood and to forgive and care for her own aging parents.

A professor of English at Western Washington University and an author of the memoirs "A Mind Apart" and "A Body Toxic," (a New York Times Notable Book,) as well as several collections of poetry, she recounts her experiences and thoughts in "Make Me a Mother."

She will talk about her book at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, at Village Books, 1200 11th St.

She also will interview Whatcom Reads! author Cheryl Strayed at 10 a.m. Feb. 25 at Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

Question: How did growing up in New Jersey lead to your writing of "Body Toxic?"

Answer: I was chronicling some of the awful Superfund sites in places where I'd grown up, and the hardscrabble feel of it - the paint factories and refineries that defined my part of the world. I have the ultimate love-hate relationship with my New Jersey, that Newark-Elizabeth area!

Q: How does your thought process for writing poetry differ from that for writing prose?

A: Poetry for me lately has been more urgent. After "Make Me a Mother" was contracted, some but not all of it was finished, and through completion and the revision process I had deadlines in the back of my mind.

Poetry kind of breaks through all that when it really needs to. I do build in writing time to my schedule when it's humanly possible to do so; at times there just isn't a spare moment.

Of course, I think all writers have those gifts, the moments when a passage just comes to you when you're on a plane or something, and you scrawl it down on whatever piece of paper you can grab. The disciplined hours enable you to use those gifts.

Q: Why do you enjoy teaching?

A: I love teaching for the constant glimpse it gives me into the minds of so many very different smart, creative people. I love that. My students give me many of my best ideas, just in the regular give-and-take in the classroom.

Now I also teach Asian students in Hong Kong, which has been an amazing learning experience. Humans are on the surface so different, and yet so alike. I have memorable moments in that I learn something or think about a problem differently, pretty constantly in teaching. And it's a thrill when my students go on to publish their own books.

Q: Why did you write about the adoption process?

A: What I say in my book is that adoption redrew the map of my world. Any parenthood does, I expect, but with adoption there are other parents out there and another family intimately connected to you, and another culture. Korea, Asia, and the Korean communities here in town and in Seattle became part of our lives.

Being a parent feels like you just grow another heart, and it's so full, the love in there spills out over everything and everyone else in your life.

Q: What else do you like to do?

A: We do love to travel. Last summer we spent two weeks together in Hong Kong, during which I was working a lot of the time, but then we went to Macau and spent a week in Seoul.

Macau is surreal, like an oversized Las Vegas plunked down on a tiny island in the middle of the sea. In Seoul we became obsessed with a Korean ice dessert called bingsu and spent far too much of our time either eating bingsu or plotting where to go for the next one. Times like these are so precious.

I'm also a pretty fanatical cook and gardener. I grow lot of food, relative to the wee size of our property, and I can and preserve a great deal and make a lot of things, even cheeses, from scratch.

I think of cooking as the anti-writing; you make something wonderful and there it is in front of you immediately, unlike the glacial process of writing and publishing. Good food offers instant gratification, and everyone loves you for it.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

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