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Grand Rapids writer Hawkinson on new book, writing and self-publishing

Photo of author, Susan Hawkinson, and cover of her latest book The Adventures of Annie McCallum.
Susan Hawkinson
Writer Susan Hawkinson

Susan Hawkinson’s new book “The Adventures of Annie McCallum” enjoyed by children and adults.

GRAND RAPIDS — Writer Susan Hawkinson has tried her hand in several genres of writing.

During a sabbatical in 1992, she wrote and recorded essays for KAXE and in 2003 she co-authored the book Timber Connections: The Joyce Lumber Story, a local history of the impact of the Joyce family’s lumber empire on Northern Minnesota.

Hawkinson has also authored a book in poetic narrative called Tina Christina Sestina: A Northwoods Adventure (2013) and a play called Paddle off the Map. Her latest work is a children’s book called The Adventures of Annie McCallum (2023).

In a recent What We’re Reading interview, Hawkinson shared how writing has created opportunities to engage with the community and reach out to children.

In the case of Tina Christina Sestina, Hawkinson received grants to present on the book in classrooms across Northern Minnesota. The story of a young girl and the adventures she has at her aunt’s lake cabin is told in sestina format, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, and rotating end words. Hawkinson explained, “They rotate in a particular pattern throughout the six stanzas. And then there's a three-stanza conclusion that uses all six end words.”

Hawkinson worked with students to create their own sestinas. She admitted, “It was very frustrating for the first half-hour and then they would have an epiphany and then off they'd go and then we had a good time.”

Hawkinson’s latest book, The Adventures of Annie McCallum, is set in Grand Rapids in 1955. Fourth grader Annie wants to change the dress code so that girls can wear pants to school. She gets help from her classmates and twin brothers, who come up with the plan to change the dress code for everybody — all the girls and the boys wear skirts over pants.

Hawkinson explained, “Of course this creates an uproar with the administration, the school board and so on. My goal was to have a collaboration between boys and girls. And also to have a fourth grader who was on a mission and stuck with it.”

The story resonates with adults as well, Hawkinson noted, from those who know Grand Rapids to those who grew up in that era and share these common stories.

Hawkinson does the work of publishing, marketing and selling her books on her own. She noted a couple of pros and cons to self-publishing.

“The wonderful part of marketing is that you meet all kinds of people and people love your work and they want to tell you their story,” she said. “ … But it takes a lot of persistence. You just have to keep at it. You have to be willing to take the financial risk. Be confident that if you just stick to your goal, you will sell these books.”

Susan Hawkinson’s books can be found at the Grand Rapids Area Library and several stores throughout Grand Rapids:

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What We're Reading is made possible in part by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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Tammy works at Bemidji State University's library, and she hosts "What We're Reading," a show about books and authors.