Friday, August 19, 2022

It's My Whole Life - Q&A with Author Susan Wider

I'm excited to announce a wonderful new young adult biography just released this month by debut author, Susan Wider, It's My Whole Life: Charlotte Salomon: An Artist in Hiding During World War 2. It's the true story of a young Jewish artist who created a series of over a thousand paintings to document her experiences while she was hiding from the Nazis. It has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank in pictures. 

This summer my blog has focused on Tips for Connecting Books for Summer Fun, but as I look back through my list, I realize that I left of exploring art through visiting museums and learning new skills like painting, drawing, or learning an instrument. That's all right. Susan's book has given me inspiration for my next summer series in 2023.

In the meantime, Susan was gracious enough to answer some questions about her book.

: In your author’s note you mention that you first became aware of Charlotte when another artist, Maira Kalman, shared in an interview about how Charlotte influenced her work? How has Charlotte influenced your work?
: When the Nazi invasion of the south of France became inevitable, Charlotte described her need to “vanish for a while from the human plane and make every sacrifice in order to create.” With Charlotte’s words in my head, I find it easier to close out the world—as politely as possible—and disappear into my writing
: What inspired you to write a book about her?
: When I realized that there were no books about Charlotte for young readers—apart from one Italian graphic novel-style biography—I wanted to write about her for teen readers. Charlotte deals with an avalanche of difficulties, from psychological abuse to family suicides to racism to genocide to living as a refugee, all issues that many teens face today.
: Your original manuscript for this book included three artists. Who were the other two? 
: As I was researching Charlotte’s story, I came across two other creative young women—among many hundreds of thousands—whose lives and talents were severely disrupted by World War II. In the initial manuscript I braided the stories of Charlotte Salomon, Helga Weiss, and Zdena Berger because their creative output was influenced by pre-concentration camp years (Charlotte); time inside a concentration camp (Helga); and post-war reflection on surviving four camps (Zdena).

Carolee: Those are three very interesting perspectives. How did you decide to focus on Charlotte? 

Susan: When my agent sent that manuscript to various publishers, they all felt that each woman deserved her own book. Back to the drawing board and my agent suggested I start with Charlotte.
: What is one thing you hope young readers take away from Charlotte’s story?
: In spite of everything she was up against—Grandfather, her stepmother, a family history of suicide, Adolf Hitler—Charlotte was able to find her voice in art and writing “with the feeling I had something I would be able to say to humanity.” I hope she inspires young readers to search for their own forms of self-expression, even in dark times.

Carolee: I was certainly inspired by her story when I read it. Art is what gave beauty and purpose to her life during a time that could have otherwise been unbearable. Thanks so much for sharing her story!

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