Suzanne Richardson’s Nexus Talk

Kyle Riecker, Layout Editor


Creative writing, unlike politics, is a field where alternative facts are encouraged.

Suzanne Richardson, assistant professor of creative non-fiction, practices and preaches the art of spinning a good yarn, writing fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry.

On Feb. 17 in the Willard Conference Room, Richardson gave a talk titled “Memoir, Poetry, The Creative Process, and How to Structure a Book,” which is part of the Nexus Seminar Series. She shared some of her own work and provided insight on her creative process.  There were about 30 people in attendance; a mix of faculty and students, as well as members from the community, both young and old.

Richardson started writing poetry at age 14, but started writing stories at a much younger age.

“In high school I had two amazing English teachers who pushed me to write,” Richardson said.  “I model much of my teaching after them.”

Her teachers provided her with examples of poets and authors which cemented Richardson’s lifelong love of writing. She developed her own tastes and style by reading works by various authors.

Richardson focused on writing fiction during her undergraduate work at Bard College. Her MFA program at The University of New Mexico provided a chance to explore other avenues such as non-fiction and poetry.  This was unusual for writing programs, as many steer aspiring writers towards a single genre of study.

“Why are writing genres segregated?” Richardson asked the audience.

For Richardson, her writing process always starts with a line or a phrase that pops into her head.  After that, the idea snowballs.

When creating fiction, it usually starts with a voice in her head, a character that tells her their story.  Richardson joked with the audience, kindly asking them to not think she was crazy for hearing voices.  She explained the genesis of her creative process happens in random places, but typically when she is washing her hair or in the shower.

Poetry can capture a moment. Collections of poetry, or half-collections known as chapbooks, are purposefully ordered, have a flow and contain themes that tie the work together, much like an album.

Her chapbook, “The Softest Part of a Woman is a Wound,” which she read selections from, moves from the west to the east geographically, signifying her journey from New Mexico to her current home of Utica.  The first piece in her chapbook is meant to read like a dark ending, while the last has a lighter tone, more like a beginning; describing portals, and different gateways to explore.

One poem from the chapbook that she performed, titled “Valley Fever,” is a macabre piece with a theme of death and illness. Richardson drew inspiration for the piece from a brief romantic encounter she had while living in Albuquerque. The subject of the poem was a funeral parlor worker whose father had contracted “Valley Fever,” which is a fungal infection of the spinal column.

Richardson explained that research is integral to creative writing.

“Listen to other people and see what they are saying,” she said.

Other firsthand research Richardson has conducted for her non-fiction work involved infiltrating the world of illegal street racing in Albuquerque.  Drifters, as they call themselves, soup up sports cars and try to outdo one and other with gravity-defying tricks known as drifts.  These races would often take place behind old factories and other isolated areas of the city, she said.

The racers eventually found out that Richardson was more than an interested bystander, and was conducting research for writing. By then, she had befriended the drifters and they did not take offense. Richardson described her research into the drifting scene culture as “very anthropologic.”

When offering pointers on how to utilize research, Richardson suggested to write as soon as possible after conducting the field study.

As the seminar wrapped up, Richardson offered some additional advice.

“Generate as much (writing) as possible and then go back and structure later,” she suggested.

When asked if she ever had a work that had to be scrapped and thrown away, she said, “You can always cannibalize (writing) from a dead piece”.

Aside from her catalog of published work, Richardson can be found feverishly writing off-the-cuff statuses on social media, delivering sentimental and alternative viewpoints on society, politics, life, and her current home city of Utica.

Janis Winn, a Reference Librarian at Utica College, attended the seminar and enjoyed Richardson’s talk.

“It was a wonderful insight into an artists’ process, and I enjoyed hearing her background,” Winn said.

For more information and works published by Suzanne Richardson, visit her Tumblr website,