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I am AACC: Susan Cohen

Faculty Snapshot
English Professor

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“Sometimes you’re able to see big changes in students and sometimes you don’t see the changes at all,” she says. “One of my favorite examples of this was in 1997 I had as student who was very interesting and into his writing and liked to write Stephen King-like stories. He’s now on his fifth published novel and we’ve become friends over the years and how amazing is that? He’s not the only one; I have a lot of students who keep in touch with me. I see how they’ve grown, which sometimes may have nothing to do with me but sometimes it does; that’s what I like about teaching.”

A question she poses frequently to her students when writing is the limitless mystery of “What if?”—a literary staple that challenges her students to “keep that door to their imagination open.” The question parallels her sentiments of what the college has to offer students as it serves as a platform for great exploration and opportunity.

“I think what I love about the community college is it has many more possibilities for students,” she says. “We tend to think that community college students come here in order to go somewhere else, but I think it’s a great place for students to become something they hadn’t thought they were going to be.” kr

Want to contact Susan? E-mail her at

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[More on Susan…]

What’s your favorite thing to write?
“It’s shifted over my lifetime. I used to love to write fiction and live in that world of imagination but the last few years of my life I am much more interested in literary nonfiction. This summer I attended a nature’s writers retreat and worked on writing about landscapes and environmental issues.”

What have you published?
“I have some anthologies, essays, online essays, essays in books, and poetry.”

Who are some of your favorite writers?
“Some writers who have inspired me… when I was starting graduate school, I discovered a writer Wallace Stegner. I read one of his books and was stunned and found myself reading everything he wrote after that. I grew up on the east coast and he was a writer well known on the west coast, so he literally changed my perspective on the world. I got very lucky because before he died I got to sit down at a dinner table with him—not that I got to know him, but I had the opportunity to meet a real hero.
“I’m a walking, talking Thoreau-vian; I love to quote Thoreau, I think he’s a very important writer. This summer my favorite writer is Haruki Murakami; I read four novels by him. My other favorite writer is Kazuo Ishiguro. They are both fiction writers. Why I'm on their path right now I'm not sure."

What do you think makes a good writer?
“Every good story begins with the question “What if?” so I think writers whose imagination is engaged, and who ask themselves “what if” that is the beginning of a good writer. For example, “What if four kids could walk through a closet into another world?” So at some level imagination first; determination; someone who loves language; and someone who wants to engage intimately with the reader.
“I don’t know how you feel when you read a book, but I know it’s a good book when I’m lost in the writer’s world. I think that writer must have been talking directly to me, and he or she must be willing to connect to me.”

How has writing impacted you?
“It’s my life. I teach writing, in my spare time I write and read, and I love being involved in conversations about writing. I will read between 20-40 books a summer; depending on the summer I have.“

What does it mean to you?  
“It means all different kinds of things. As a little girl and as I got older, writing meant discovery; you get to see things that you can’t physically touch.  I don’t know how you read, but when I read a book I literally imagine myself in the story, in the essay—so I’m walking around the landscape with the characters and I feel myself transported, and in that way writing for me is not just an intellectual activity, it’s something that is transcendent.”

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