Her dog on one side of her and the cat on the other, Suzanne Paola sits on the living room sofa with her laptop, words filling the screen.
“I don’t remember ever not writing, as soon as I could form letters,” says the award-winning Bellingham poet, author and Western creative writing professor. “But I wouldn’t say I love writing. It’s always a complicated relationship. I feel as if things get stuck in my head, and if I don’t write they’ll never get unstuck. And I love connecting with people who may feel a kinship with one of my works.”
Readers certainly have a choice with Paola’s books – poetry, fiction, memoir and creative nonfiction, along with the textbook that that she co-wrote with fellow Western English Professor Brenda Miller. Her writing has been included in numerous poetry and prose anthologies, The New York Times and Orion magazine. Her subjects are just as diverse: from neurodiversity, the environment and mental health to parenting and spirituality. Even lipstick, shoes and handbags show up. Paola strips them of their chick-lit tropes and dons them with a deeper meaning in her recent e-book novella, “Stolen Moments” (Shebooks, 2014), published under the pen name Susanne Antonetta Paola.
She drops the Paola for most of her prose, including her latest book, “Make Me a Mother” (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2014), which tells her story of adopting a six-month-old South Korean boy. But it’s more than a memoir.
“Ever since childhood, I thought I’d adopt. I was always aware of too many humans on the planet, many not taken care of. Adopting made sense as a way for me to form my family,” Paola says. So she and her husband, Bruce Beasley, also a poet and English professor at Western, decided on Asia, where Jin was waiting for them in Seoul.
The first thing she learned as a mother was “just how much you can love a child. You know that, but it still takes you by surprise. And when you adopt, you fall in love with someone with the awareness of how they’re different from you, physically and intellectually,” she says. “And more expansive topics, I’m surprised at how much we’ve culturally taken on Korea.”
She has been there many times, also with Jin at age 12 to meet his foster mother.
Paola and her family enjoy their ties to Bellingham’s Korean community, as friends, members of the First Korean Baptist Church, and eager learners of the language. She also teaches at the low-residency M.F.A. program at City University in Hong Kong.
“I’m intensely aware of the adoptiveness of life. To a certain extent, your friends, your family, all the people in your life are those you’ve adopted,” says Paola, whose book also explores adoption, culturally and historically, and motherhood, in general. Being a parent has expanded her notion of family, shed light on her own troubled childhood, and helped her heal her relationship with her now-elderly and infirm parents. “My mother had a hard time having a daughter. Now she’s got Alzheimer’s and is very needy. I think it’s the mother side of me that’s come through to help take care of her,” she says.