Alumni News

Suzanne Brooks: Singer, Songwriter, Bandleader and Activist Says the Secret to Life is Making New Friends

By Christel Woods, English department graduate student

All interviews have a structure, a rhythm and pace from the origin of the questions to reflection of the responses, which is what I expected from the straightforward open-ended questions she prepared for an interview with WSU alumna Suzanne Brooks (’79 MA). Instead, I soon discovered my interviewee was not only a phenomenal woman, but a social entrepreneur whose tireless efforts have brought about significant attention to women’s issues and especially women of color.

Since the first celebration of the International Association for Women of Color Day held March 1, 1986, Brooks has been CEO and founder of the organization with the objective of providing a day to celebrate the contributions and achievements of diverse women of color. In 2012, Brooks created WomenWorldCulture, a network with educational and social services that connect, empower, support, and engage women and cultural groups to exchange information directly, collect and develop educational content, conduct and promote research, and to encourage, support and fund social entrepreneurs, the arts, social change, and actions to sustain the planet.

Suzanne Brooks

Brooks, who grew up in an era when being from a multicultural and multiethnic family was not safe in many parts of the United States. Nevertheless, she has used her family and life experiences to organize people and bring opposing groups to the table. Brooks contends that each generation, and especially the younger generations, must work together and maintain conversations on issues of global climate change, health disparities, poverty, racism, and classism. She believes that sustaining discussions over and across generations, including the present one, will prevent humans from continually starting over. Brooks argues that each generation should not need to relearn and repay for what “previous generation(s) have already paid for, bled for, and some even died for, and Brooks believes: “No one can bring about global change better than U.S. women.”

Women of color don’t usually come to education in traditional ways: the education of many women of color reflects interruptions. Brooks provided examples of situations and stories that demonstrate how women, and especially women of color, must often patch together opportunities and support to achieve a higher education. Today, women enter college because they need a degree to qualify for a job, to break a glass ceiling, or to avoid a floor that doesn’t stop revealing a basement. Family crises, incarceration rates, or a desire to fill a leadership position are issues that must be addressed by those with higher education. As Brook pointed out, “all of these pathways are familiar barriers to entring higher education, and education is the key to minimizing those barriers.”

One way that Brooks breaks down those barriers is by tutoring non-native English speakers, and every week she works with the people in her neighborhood to develop their language skills. Brooks contends, people who teach English are not just teaching the language, but other skills, as well. She reminds people that “we had languages before English. When we’re working with students, we don’t just teach them the English language, we also use symbols, sounds, music and our shared experiences.”

She smiles really big when we talk about jazz.

Jazz, a sound that is quintessentially American, which originated from the belly of the south, from the struggle, the beauty and the pain of American life. The music migrated far beyond the Mason Dixon Line into the nation and then later to the world. But jazz was generally music controlled by men. Brooks argues there was a need for a woman-led jazz band. Recently, society is seeing women as jazz band leaders in shows such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, produced by Netflix, and HBO’s Bessie (starring Queen Latifa). Both portray women in jazz as mainstream. The new perspective has allowed for conversations that uncover issues pertaining to women of color and identify issues surrounding their lives to articulate barriers to entry.

Group photo.
The Jazz Generation

Despite the growing popularity of female jazz bands, many women-led bands rarely get recognition. Women like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, and the unmistakable and soul satisfying sounds of Billie Holiday have inspired other women in jazz such as Casandra Wilson. Jazz, a product of both the southern and Black culture relies on many different and moving parts to create an ensemble. In jazz, each instrument has a solo part, but none outshines the other. Brooks shares this same vision when she started the International Women of Color Day. Much like her teaching brings together jazz and language, Brooks’s creation of the International Women of Color Day and WomenWorldCulture offer an ensemble cast for all women of color.

Brooks contends that Americans are still on the road to pursuing freedom and equality, and while some of the journeys may appear to be detours, there may may be exits on the road to progress. To that end, Brooks has organized grassroot organizations and created solutions within communities and has blended her love of jazz and teaching the English language beautifully.

Brooke currently lives in Sacramento, California, where she is the bandleader of The Jazz Generation. As a WSU graduate, her dream is to come back to WSU with her band.

A New Perspective on Women’s Representations on the Scaffold

Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey

In April, Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey (’17 PhD) presented “Women’s Executions in Early Modern England: A Cultural Examination” at the Neill Public Library in Pullman on behalf of the David G. Pollart Center for Arts and Humanities.

During her presentation and discussion, Lodine-Chaffey offered a new perspective on the representations of women on the scaffold, focusing on how female victims and those writing about them constructed meaning from the ritual.

A significant part of the execution spectacle—one used to assess the victim’s proper acceptance of death and godly repentance—was the final speech offered at the foot of the gallows or before the pyre. To ensure that their words on the scaffold held value for audiences, women adopted conventionally gendered language and positioned themselves as subservient and modest. Just as important as their words, though, were the depictions of women’s bodies. Drawing on a wide range of genres, from accounts of martyrdom to dramatic works, Lodine-Chaffey explores not only the words of women executed in Tudor and Stuart England, but also the ways that writers represented female bodies as markers of penitence or deviance.

Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey holding a book.

The reception of women’s speeches, Lodine-Chaffey argues, depended on their performances of acceptable female behaviors and words as well as physical signs of interior regeneration. Indeed, when women presented themselves or Description automatically generated”>were represented as behaving in stereotypically feminine and virtuous ways, they were able to offer limited critiques of their fraught positions in society.

Lodine-Chaffey is an assistant professor of English at Montana State University Billings where she teaches a broad range of literature and writing classes including Shakespeare and transatlantic literature. Her scholarship focuses on early modern cultural understandings of death, public execution, gender, and animals. Her work on these topics has appeared in The Journal of Marlowe StudiesHistorical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques, the Ben Jonson Journal, Parergon, Quidditas: Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association, and several edited collections. Her most recent publication “Teaching Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko as Execution Narrative” can be found in Race in the European Renaissance: A Classroom Guide (Arizona Center of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2023). Her first book, A Weak Woman in a Strong BattleWomen and Public Execution in Early Modern England was published in 2022 as part of the Strode Studies in Early Modern Literature and Culture series (University of Alabama Press).

Dale Herd Releases Dreamland Court

Book cover: Dreamland Court, by Dale Herd.

Set in the blighted industrial landscape of the Los Angeles basin, Dale Herd’s (‘63 BA) recently released novel Dreamland Court is an underground love story.

Just out of prison, Johnny Dalton returns home to find Jackie, his wife and the mother of his two small children, passionately involved with one of his good friends. Doing everything in his power to win her back, Johnny blunders his way through one criminal enterprise after another. When the cops pick him up for being the only adult present at a wild teenage party, he’s sent back to jail. The strange thing is, as far as Jackie is concerned, Johnny’s maneuvers actually work.

Reminiscent of the pathos in Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, and the comedy of John Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Herd focuses his astute gaze on lives that are ordinarily invisible, while turning the conventional love story on its head.

Dale Herd

Herd is also the author of four short-story books: Early Morning Wind (Bolinas 1972), Diamonds (Mudra, 1976), Wild Cherries (Tombouctou, 1980), and Empty Pockets (Coffee House Press, 2015). In all his writing, Herd captures readers with the vivid prose he builds from his fertile literary cornucopia. Written with brevity and stark economy of language, Herd’s writing reflects his experience as an itinerant laborer in wrecking yards, fast food kitchens, gas stations, Salvation Army yards, slaughterhouses, train yards, in social work, and on construction sites.

Traveling the backroads, Herd offers a sampling of the American landscape as seen through the eyes of characters from high school lovers passing notes to a drug runner’s daily life and from a boy’s first fist fight to the unexpected aftermath of a woman’s first experience of marijuana. From the proud and stoic to the broken and tragic, Herd’s stories are the postcards of life as it is lived and provide “a fine overview to the work of a writer whose work eludes easy description but remains ahead of its time.”

Herd was born in Spokane, Washington. At the age of 18, he moved to California where he spent the next 12 years surfing before traveling to work and write. Currently, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Deborah Blum Herd, and their three sons.

Where are They Now?

The Grauman Family

Dale Grauman and Jill (Bohle) Grauman

Despite the deep, deep divide between their areas of concentration, Dale Grauman (’11 MA literature) and Jill Bohle Grauman (’12 MA rhetoric and composition) began dating during their master’s studies at WSU, a decision that seems to have worked out pretty well.

After Dale graduated, he worked for the WSU Department of English as a lecturer for two years. Jill took a different path after earning her degree and spent a year working as a technical document specialist for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman.

In 2013, Jill and Dale moved together from Pullman to Ames, Iowa to pursue doctorate degrees in rhetoric and professional communication at Iowa State University. After completing their first year of coursework, they got married in Jill’s home town in northeast Iowa.

The spring of 2018 was an extremely eventful time for the couple. Jill completed her PhD in May and then gave birth to their first child, Fern, in June. In July, the new family of three moved to the western suburbs of Chicago, to start new jobs at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (the state’s largest two-year college): Jill as an assistant professor of English and Dale as a writing coach in the college’s Writing, Reading, and Speech Assistance Center. 

Family photo on the beach.
Dale, Clara, Jill, and Fern Grauman on a recent vacation in Seaside, Oregon

In March 2020, Jill and Dale had their second child, Clara. Having an infant at home during a global pandemic was an unexpected turn of events, but Jill and Dale were both able to work remotely until 2021, something for which they are both very grateful. Jill also had the anticlimactic, but still very gratifying, experience of earning tenure–albeit via Zoom!

Recently, Dale has set aside working toward a PhD in English to pursue a master of science degree in natural resource management. He is now an adjunct instructor and taking classes. Jill was recently appointed as the chair of composition and she is looking forward to taking on more of a leadership role in the department.