Suzanne DeWitt Hall
Suzanne DeWitt Hall is a columnist with Merrimack Valley Magazine, and author of the children’s picture book Rumplepimple. She is mildly obsessed with vintage cookbooks, and the intersection of sexuality and theology. She lives in Massachusetts with her wife Diane, a cat named Chicken, and a wire fox terrier. On Wednesday mornings you can find her date stamping books at a tiny volunteer-run library. Otherwise you can reach her through her website: www.sdewitthall.com.
o What motivated you to write a book that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ families/issues?
Social belongingness and acceptance is important for kids. They want to feel “normal”. They want to read about families like their own. And children live in all sorts of familial configurations. Some live with a mom and dad, some with just one, some with two of one or the other. Some live with grandparents, others with foster parents. And these are just a few examples.
The fictional Rumplepimple’s family structure is just like the real Rumplepimple’s. He has two mommies and a sister cat named Chicken. The story shows that parents act like parents regardless of gender or biological relationship, and that love is what is important. It’s not an “issues” book in that Rumplepimple’s parents are not explained. We’ve mostly graduated from the era which required books that explore why Jimmy has two daddies, just as we have moved away from needing books which explained why a girl with such gorgeous mahogany skin suddenly appears in a lily white classroom. This new era needs books that simply present examples of varying family structures in all their beautiful diversity.
o What does “equality” look like to you?
This is a really interesting question.
Our drive for equal treatment is generally fueled by our individual realities. Races demand it. Women demand it. Faith groups demand it. Same-sex couples demand it. Transgender individuals demand it. All of these groups, and all of the other groups not mentioned, deserve equality. But the rights requested by some of these groups are sometimes seen as violations of the rights of others. News stories tell us that some Christians believe their freedom of religion is compromised by the existence of same-sex marriages. These people would argue that the need for equal treatment of homosexual couples overrides their religious freedom, rendering them “less equal”. There is validity to this argument in some contexts, and its all rather complicated.
So what does equality look like to me? I think it revolves around human dignity. There are so many ways that our dignity is not valued or respected, even by ourselves. We treat ourselves and each other as objects to be controlled or owned or used rather than to be treasured and celebrated. Equality should mean that each human person is judged and treated by the same set of rules. Rich or poor, young or old, handicapped or fully able, gay or straight, Catholic or Muslim, male or female or non-binary, all worthy of humane treatment, respect, and full access to legal rights.
Do I think we’re going to get there any time soon? Probably not. But I think it’s more a problem of the human heart than of law (though equality laws are essential). We have a very hard time not evaluating issues based on how we perceive that they will negatively impact us. Because of that, the fight for equal rights will probably always be a battlefield. And sometimes bloody.
o Whose books do you admire and why?
That’s a long list! From the perspective of the craft of writing and the sheer unattainable beauty of their work I’d point to Paul Harding (Tinkers, Enon) and Goldie Goldbloom (The Paperbark Shoe). For children’s books I’m a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle‘s metaphysical exploration of science and the wonderful surreality of Neil Gaiman. When it comes to writers about sexuality and faith, I admire the work of Kathy Baldock and Matthew Vines. For the pure power to suck you in to a story and keep you there even though your heart is breaking, Wally Lamb is master and also a darned nice guy. And of course I have to mention a few of my local writer friends; the inspiringly prolific Holly Robinson who wrote one of my all-time favorite memoirs (The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter) and the magical Kristin Blair O’Keeffe (The Art of Floating).
o What’s coming up next for you?
I’m working on Rumplepimple’s next adventure which features a gender queer cat named Georgia who becomes his sidekick. Chicken develops a mad crush on him which makes Rumplepimple want to gag. As usual, Rumplepimple gets in trouble without meaning to. He races downtown after Georgia on a busy festival day, trying to stop him from getting hit by a car or hassled by the crowd, but ends up in jail when a do-gooder sweeps Rumplepimple up and presents him to the police. And of course the moms don’t understand.
As with the first book, Georgia’s gender and the fact that Rumplepimple and Chicken have two moms is not directly addressed. There’s a funny illustration of Georgia’s family peering beneath him with expressions of “guess it doesn’t really matter” on their faces, but that’s the only reference, and it’s not verbalized. Georgia is simply there, being Rumplepimple’s friend and Chicken’s heartthrob.
Aside from these books, I’m a Huffington Post blogger and I regularly write about sexuality and gender in the context of Christianity. My goal is to help Christians who’ve been force-fed a Pharisaical diet of exclusion and damnation to embrace an understanding of the scriptures through the lens of a loving Christ. For several years I’ve been gathering materials for a book which offers a biblical defense for same-sex relationships. Not sure when that project will take wings. I’ve also got a novel in slow, agonizing progress which explores the explosive power of hate and the transformative power of love.