English instructor continues long writing career

By Jade Inglada

East Los Angeles College Professor Susan Suntree’s writing has won awards allowing her to travel all over the world.

Originally wanting to become an actress, Suntree still remains passionate about performing but ultimately chose to pursue writing. After starting out at a community college, she left California and transferred to the University of Arizona to continue her education.

“I studied nursing at the University of Arizona for a few years while acting in plays, having my first poem published, and minoring in art,” said Suntree. “Through all those early changes, I wrote poetry and adored Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Beowulf. I declared an English major and went to the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, for graduate school.”

“I highly recommend studying abroad,” said Suntree. “It’s such a life-changing experience to have. It opens your eyes to the world.”

In 1981, Suntree published her first book of poetry, “Eye of the Womb.” It took three years to write, from the first poem to publication.

It also became her first book to be translated into Spanish, under the title “El Ojo de la Matriz.” This allowed her to travel to Spain on a few occasions.

Her most popular book is “Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California.”

It’s another work of poetry, focusing on the prehistory of the Southern California known today through the perspective of the Native American people. “My research for “Sacred Sites” involved me, on and off, for at least twenty years. I’m still studying the Southern California landscape and cultures.” said Suntree.

“Sacred Sites” won two awards in 2011, the Southern California Independent Booksellers award in nonfiction and the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award in poetic narrative.

“She’s one of the best writers I know,” said Deidre Gainor, a long time friend of Suntree and fellow writer. The two first met in 1982 at UCLA’s nonprofit Artsreach program, where Suntree created theatre productions for the developmentally disabled. They have been part of the same weekly writing group for over the past 20 years.

“Her writing takes you into a place that you would have never gone to by yourself,” said Gainor. “She has such a creative, scientific mind. Her writing is so unique and informative; I don’t think anyone else writes the way she does, at least I don’t think so.”

At ELAC, Suntree has her students experience the opportunity of getting a piece of their writing published as well. She is part of the Milestone publishing committee, and each semester her students have the chance to contribute and publish one of their works into one book.

Her most recent trip was to Alaska, where she took a vacation and also did research for her next piece of work, another book of poetry focusing on a similar topic to “Sacred Sites.”

Suntree plans to focus on another book about Southern California after her current one is published.

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