Susan Suntree‘s life-long commitment to poetry, performance, teaching, and community work intends to awaken the creative spirit on behalf of what is wild, communal, and generous. As a poet, performer, and essayist, her work investigates the dynamics of science, art, and spiritual philosophies as they engage contemporary life. She has presented her poetry and performances nationally and internationally, and has published books of poetry, biography, and creative nonfiction, as well as translations, essays, reviews, and book chapters.
Her best-selling book, Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California (University of Nebraska Press 2010; updated paperback 2020; audio book 2021), won the Southern California Independent Booksellers Award for Nonfiction, PEN Josephine Miles Award for Poetic Narrative, and a Mellon Foundation Elemental Arts award. The audio book was a finalist for a 2021 SOVA (Society of Voice Arts and Sciences) award. In this book, Suntree draws from Western science and indigenous narratives and songs to tell the story of how Southern California came into being from the Big Bang to the present.
Her adaptation as a poem of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights poem is set as a choral work by award-winning composer Adrienne Albert, and frequently performed (A Choral Quilt of Hope: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Her recent book of poetry, Dear Traveler, was published in 2021 by Finishing Line Press. Eye of the Womb (Power Press 1981) was published in Madrid as a bilingual edition, El Ojo de la Matriz (Vision Libros, 2010). Other books include: “Tulips,” (Exiled-In-America Press,1993) a bilingual chapbook of poetry by Spanish poet, Ana Rossetti; Rita Moreno (Chelsea House 1991), young adult biography; Wisdom of the East: Stories of Compassion, Inspiration, and Love, editor (Contemporary/McGraw-Hill, 2001) with a foreword by the Dalai Lama.
Her performances include one-woman shows, site-specific works, and street theater focused on threats to the Southern California environment and indigenous heritage and often feature giant and small puppets, poetry, songs, and masks. She has lead neighborhood and cultural preservation campaigns including the creation of an historic district in Santa Monica where she lives. She has an MA in English and American literature from the University of Kent, Canterbury (UK), and a BA from the University of Arizona.
HONORS & AWARDS
Santa Monica Conservancy Preservation Advocacy Award, 2019.
Mellon Foundation Elemental Arts Award, Pomona College, 2012.
Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Award: Non-fiction, 2011.
PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award, Narrative Poetry, 2011.
Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter, Extraordinary Achievement Award, Ballona Wetlands Task Force Management Committee, March 2004.
The Puffin Foundation, for FrogWorks, 2000.
Co-director of EWALA(Earth Water Air Los Angeles): Awards and grants from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Southern California War Resisters League, the Sierra Club, Save Open Space Foundation, Earthways Foundation, 1998-2000.
International Exchange Artist Award for a residency in the Netherlands from the 18th Street Arts Complex, Santa Monica, CA., 1998.
Commission, through the Ford Foundation as part of California State University at Los Angeles’ Los Angeles Project for “Sacred Sites/Los Angeles,” 1995.
Member, Los Angeles Theatre Center’s Women’s Project, 1986-1991.
The Santa Monica Art Commission, Santa Monica Art Foundation, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica School District, and private funding, for “Sacred Sites: Santa Monica” performances and workshops, 1986-87.
California Arts Council as resident artist, mask maker (part of a multi-artist program), South Pasadena Schools, 1985.
California Arts Council as resident artist, as part of the UCLA ArtsReach multi-artist program, 1983-85.
Commission, Manhattan Theater Project’s Writers-In-Performance series for “Origins of Praise,” 1982.
Mortimer Fleishhacker Foundation grant, for work as North Sierra Regional Coordinator, California Poets in the Schools, 1981.
California Arts Council as artist and co-director of the Primitive Arts Institute, 1976, 1979, 1980.
The California Arts Council, as poet/playwright for the inter-disciplinary, multi-media performance, “Bawdy Suite-Sweet Body,” 1978.
The California Arts Council/National Endowment for the Arts Folk Art Program, to create a Visiting Folk Artist Series for the Folk Artists in the Schools State and National Model Residency in the Oroville High School District, to serve as project liaison to the California Arts Council, and to produce audio-visual documentation of the project.
Co-Director, Primitive Arts Institute, Nevada City, CA., 1976-1982.
Founding Director, Lola Montez House, for the Nevada County Arts Council, 1978.
Finnish Government Research Grant: Finnish Mumming Plays, 1972-73.
National Endowment for the Humanities Grant/University of Arizona Folk Culture Institute 1971.