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Susan Calvillo, Featured Author Interview for Audacious Women: An Anthology

Updated: Apr 15


HRM's Audacious Women: An Anthology is now released to readers and the public, and we are pleased to share some illuminating thoughts from our contributors about how they view "audacious women," their contributions to the anthology, and what they are working on now. Today's featured author is Susan Calvillo, who wrote the poem "latch latch latch," a piece in the anthology that explores expectations on breastfeeding and the pressures of the external world on women and mothers in particular.


How do you personally define an "audacious woman" and what role do you feel audacious women play in the world? What role have they played for you personally? Tell us an anecdote, a brief fact, or a true story.

What woman isn’t audacious? What woman has not been cracked or broken and had to remake herself? What woman has not faced the hard cold weight of oppression and still stood up and faced the day? Whether she recognizes that weight or not, she has fought it. Whether a woman is a self-proclaimed feminist or not, she wants more for herself. She wants the right to choose. She need not admit this out loud for it to be true. And in that wanting, is she not audacious?

 

Audacity asks us to be bold, inventive, flexible. There are big loud ways to be an audacious woman, and we need brilliant forms such as these, but there are quiet ways too. Silent protests. Personal decisions. A shift in perspective. To protect the self. To better the future. The quiet moments are just as vital as the loud ones. The self-reflection and the realization of the roles we play as women on this earth are vital to our equality and our community.

 

Some of my most audacious moments have been quiet ones. Ones I conquered in solitude. Ones where I needed to rise to an occasion because no one else would have. No one else was even there. So much is asked of women, and we keep rising to the occasion. We go beyond what we are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of. We transform into what is necessary. We are pushed to our limits. And we transform again. I simply wouldn’t exist as I am today without the audacious women who came before me and who stand beside me now. I do not know if there is a single role audacious women play. But I know that we find our strength in community.

 

What are your work's favorite themes when working with female characters/subjects?

Lately, I’m writing close to my own experience, in part because for a long time I felt like I didn’t have permission to—permission from publishers, fellow writers, my audience. In writing workshops, you always hear broad recommendations like, “Read the kinds of books you want to write,” or “Write what you know, but don’t say too much about your background, or you’ll be labeled an ethnic author.” The same was implied about writing as a female. Most females still used pseudonyms that masked their gender to market their books. I grew up having to read stories mostly by and about white cis males, so for a long time I subconsciously thought I couldn’t be published unless my stories starred a white cis male. So that’s what I mostly wrote. As you can imagine, a lot of my earlier writing was utter trash. It was not a perspective I understood how to write from, nor was it a perspective that I had anything interesting to add to. When my advisors and peers gave me their futile advice, they didn’t realize the kinds of books I wanted to write didn’t exist yet in the world. They didn’t realize there’s nothing wrong with being a writer of color. There’s nothing wrong with writing for your community. We could all benefit from reading the honest perspective of a woman or BIPOC.


More recently, we’ve seen a surge of interest in BIPOC and own voices, and I am loving my TBR lists. A decade ago, I was scraping to find another book I wanted to read. And now, I am flooded with wonderful voices that I love reading and can’t get enough of. So personally, I am just writing all my secrets down. Everything I never said that I wanted to say. Subjects that are uncomfortable but necessary: society’s unreasonable expectations on mothers, bodily autonomy and abuse, self-love in all its forms—especially forms that don’t conform to stereotypical ideals. Hearing so many beautiful voices, I feel permission now to write on these topics and share these experiences, and when I don’t feel permission, all the more reason I ought to be writing it.

 

Who is your favorite female character in art or literature and why?

How do you pick one? I can’t. I’m going to cheat and give you a bunch of influences. As a mother of twin threenagers, I read hundreds upon hundreds of picture books. My top picks with female leads are Beatrice Likes the Dark and Leila, The Perfect Witch. I also will never grow too old for young adult books: I’ve always loved Sabriel and I currently love Deka in The Gilded Ones. In adult poetry/fiction, I will say the authors instead of the characters since the writing is a reflection of their character, and it is the authors that are making waves: Ada Limón, Rupi Kaur, R.F. Kuang. I also can’t help but mention Michelle Yeoh and Ming-Na Wen who continue to take roles that uplift and inspire. All of these characters and artists show strength, resilience, vulnerability, and unconventional beauty.

 

Can you speak to your piece/s in the anthology and what inspired it/them? 

The piece is an excerpt from my memoir-in-verse about the insanity of twin parenting. My babies arrived in May 2020—a time when it was perfectly normal to see a pregnant woman shoved at the grocery store for the last carton of milk, when C-sections and labor inductions were cancelled to save beds, when women were denied their own husband, OB/GYN, and doula at their childbirth.

 

Essential classes like childbirth prep, breastfeeding, and perinatal depression were cancelled—virtual classes weren’t a universal thing yet. Access to healthcare diminished. Six weeks from my due date, a time when mothers normally visit the doctor every 2 weeks, all my future appointments were cancelled in an effort to protect the doctors. I was told that if I caught Covid, I wouldn’t be allowed to hold my own babies when they were born.

 

When the babies came home, I was so swept up in the whirlwind of feeding, burping, rocking and shushing two wailing newborns, that I couldn’t tell one day from the next. Childbirth had given me anemia, and my OB only let me leave the hospital on the condition that I didn’t stand up with a baby in my arms for 2 weeks—an impossible task. Meanwhile the pediatrician told me to limit help to the members of our household, which shook down to my husband and me.

 

They say it takes a village. I had one, but they were all isolating. They say sleep when the baby sleeps. But when you have two babies, there is always at least one baby awake. I blacked out from exhaustion daily so hard I couldn’t hear the babies screaming for milk. This was not what I’d planned at all. I was supposed to be sitting on my brand-new couch watching the 2020 Summer Olympics while my newborns suckled liquid gold from my gold medal breasts. Instead, the Olympics were canceled, and I was sitting on the floor sucking 5 liters of ice water from a straw as vacuums extracted milk from my nipples while I bottle fed my newborns in my lap like some messed up Rube Goldberg machine.

 

Months passed without a single night’s sleep. Everything woke up the babies: the gunshots, the protests, the police car sirens, the helicopters circling, the neighbor’s dog barking, the 7pm appreciation claps, cheers, those cowbells, and horns. One day, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I had to confront myself, the mother I had become. I had to accept that I would never be the mother I’d always dreamed I’d be. I set limits for my and the babies’ health and safety. I worked with what I had. I made the best of it.

 

When the kids started sleeping through the night, we got some relief. When vaccines and home nose-test kits became available, we got a little more. People started coming into our lives again. Some sanity returned. But we, the pandemic parents, are unlike the parents who came before us and will never be the same again.

 

 

What are you working on right now that lights you up? Who are you reading that does the same?

I love all the projects I’m working on right now. I have a novel, a memoir, and poetry collections in the works. But you’ve caught me at a moment where the writing that lights me up the most is something that I will never publish. I am writing stories, poems, and books with my 3-year-olds. I lay out giant pieces of paper, fold them in half to later be assembled into a handbound booklet, and let them illustrate whatever they want in crayons and dot markers (think stippling but 10,000x larger). Then they dictate their stories and I write the words down for them. Or I ask about their wishes, invention ideas, or impressions on something that happened that day, and I scribble down what become poems. The first time I had their dad read their stories back to them they were in awe that he knew all the words. It was like magic to them, that they had said something so imaginative and wonderful, and through written word someone else had decoded their message and understood them.

 

There are so many books that light me up! Thank you for asking so I can gush. I already talked about some authors to check out, so I’m going to spin off into science fiction for this one. I tore through The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells which is about a part robot, part human construct designed as a Security Unit and the Monk & Robot Series by Becky Chambers which imagines a hopeful future in a world where robots have achieved self-awareness. I love the conversations about gender and identity in both of these series. Rather than rushing through it, I have been savoring Rebecca Roanhorse’s series which starts with Black Sun. The third book will be released later this year, so I am letting myself take my time and enjoy every word in anticipation. Lastly, you must read Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. When Earth is on the verge of collapse, a science experiment to save humanity goes horribly wrong, or wondrously right (if you ask me): intelligent spiders evolve into a matriarchy that rules the alternative world that the last survivors of Earth hope to colonize.


Susan Calvillo is a Chinese/Mexican-American and the author of Excerpts from My Grocery List (Beard of Bees). Her writing appears in Zyzzyva, New American Writing, Nightmare Magazine, Parenting Stories Gone Speculative, and other charming magazines. By day, she's a production editor, publishing non-fiction texts in the medical, education, and tech industries. She copyedits for Foglifter, a journal created by and for LGBTQ+ writers and readers, with an emphasis on publishing those multi-marginalized (BIPOC, youth, elders, and people with disabilities). She's a Chapter 510 mentor for BIPOC LGBTQ+ Oakland youth writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy.


 

To read work from this awesome contributor in Audacious Women: An Anthology--and more exciting work that explores the complexity of women in life and literature, get your copy now! Every copy bought keeps the lights on for a small press doing great work. Thanks for reading!




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