Is Susie Bright your real name?
Yes, it really is. I was born in 1958, when "Susie" was very popular. The Bright part is my paternal family name.
How many books have you written?
I've written more than a dozen books, and edited 30+ anthologies/novels, as of this writing (2015). You can see my resumé here. I've worked with over 2000 authors in editing, publishing, and audiobook production.
Here's a sneak peek of my memoir, Big Sex Little Death
What do your parents think of what you do?'
My father, Bill Bright, was my biggest fan and best editor. He edited every book of mine until his death in 2006.
My mother, Elizabeth Bright, who passed away in 2004, was very proud of me as well. Both of them were passionate about art, music, literature, history, and politics.
My aunt always said, “So you’re a writer— Any Irishman can write. What else do you do?"
What do your children think of what you do?
I have one daughter, Aretha Bright, born in 1990. We wrote a sex and relationship advice column together for Jezebel when she was 19, called "The Bright Spot," which we turned into a book called Mother Daughter Sex Advice.
I wrote a story once about how she asked me about my "job," when she was eight. It's in my book, Mommy's Little Girl: Susie Bright on Sex, Motherhood, Pornogr aphy, and Cherry Pie.
To my own family, I’m not especially sexy or shocking. My mom would have called me a bookworm, or shy. My daughter thinks that I worry too much. They’re both right!
Were you raised with a religious faith?
Lapsed Irish Catholic. I went to parochial school for 4th and 5th grade, and stopped believing in "God" around 1968— a very big year for that sort of thing.
Do you like writing or editing better?
I love them both. I originally wrote poetry and short fiction before I became a journalist and editor.
How did you begin writing?
My first publication was home-made. When I was eight-years-old, I was very upset about Ronald Reagan running for governor in California, and I wrote a pamphlet denouncing him in my orange-red crayolas and stuck copies of it all around the neighborhood. I signed them, "Concerned Citizens of California."
I always loved to write stories and poetry; those subjects were my favorite part of school. I was a dedicated diarist and letter writer.
In high school, I became a radical and an activist, and I wrote for our campus underground newspaper, called The Red Tide. I wrote about everything from narcs on campus to how to get free birth control. The principal regularly seized our newspaper, and in 1974, we sued the LA school board for the right to distribute our student paper without prior censorship or approval. We won in State Supreme Court, in 1977.
When did you first write about sex?
My first sex writing was in San Francisco in the early 80s, when I wrote a play called “Girls Gone Bad,” and got involved in a group of queer artists called “Mainstream Exiles.”
I began to write and read erotic poetry that was popular as well.
A woman approached after one poetry reading and asked me if I'd like to contribute to a new magazine called On Our Backs: Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian. I ended up becoming the editor of this new magazine, and our efforts became notorious.
In 1986, I was asked by Penthouse Forum if I would like to write a monthly erotic film review column. I quit my day job and devoted myself to subsidizing On Our Backs.
I've been writing professionally as a freelancer ever since. My first collection of stories was Herotica, and my first book of my own stories was Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World.
Are you a lesbian or not? Don't you have a kid and a man in your life?
I'm bisexual, I always have been. My first sexual experience of any kind was with both a man and woman. I always thought that was an omen! However, I have long term relationships with one lover at a time, sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. I've lived with my partner, Jon Bailiff, for about twenty-five years.
Are you polyamorous, in an open marriage, or what?
I'm faithful to my mate, but it doesn't have anything to do with traditional physical fidelity. For me, open marriage means, "we don't cheat." He's my family, my trusted companion, and dearest lover; my daughter's father. I'm glad we both feel the same way!
Do you teach pornography, erotica, or writing classes?
Sometimes, yes. I have taught creative writing, publishing, performance, and editing for many years.
I also teach social science and arts classes, like “The Politics of Sexual Representation." It was the first scholarly class ever taught about pornography.
How can I find out when you teach a class next, or make a public appearance?
Subscribe to my mailing list, and I will stay in touch!
I want to book you in my town to do an event of some kind...
Splendid! Contact my booking manager.
Do you support yourself with your writing?
Yes, since 1986. Writing, editing, publishing, broadcasting, performing, teaching.
My dearest supporters are part of my blog subscription circle. If you dig my writing, check it out.
Do you perform in movies or on TV?
I have studied and worked as an actress and model, most frequently in my own works.
I've done a lot of theater, as a director, writer, and actor.
The film roles I have had have been quite small— I like being the screenwriter more than the performer! You can see me featured in The Celluloid Closet, The Virgin Machine, Bound, and the episode, "Rainbow of Her Reasons," in the TV series Six Feet Under.
I have non-sex cameos in The Mitchell Bros. G Spot, and Behind the Green Door 2, but if you blink, you’d miss me. I critique "Belle de Jour" with Linda Williams in the special Criterion edition of the famous Buñuel film.
I composed the sex scenes and sexual characters of Bound and wrote the East L.A. story for Erotique. I’ve worked and written behind the scenes on a lot of independent erotic movies, but I’ve never been a “porn star.”
In 2003, I was voted into "The XRCO X-Rated Hall of Fame," Fourth Estate division, for my journalism about the sex industry and erotic filmmaking.
You can find film clips and short videos of me on my YouTube channel.
Have you always been so open about sex?
Since I was in high school, when I got introduced to radical politics about most every-thing, I have been quite frank about sexuality. I was appalled when I found out that masturbation was not some secret hold that the Devil had over me. I couldn't believe all the lying about sin and sexuality that I had been taught as a child. Once I wised up, I became quite intolerant of sexual hypocrisy.
From there, I became interested in the way the erotic mind works, and how sexuality, politics, and culture feed off each other.
How did you handle sex questions with your daughter when she was growing up?
I didn't lie, and I didn't do the lies of omission that were so popular in my childhood.
Sometimes I didn't know the answer, but I usually had an idea about how to find out.
I try to DO the right thing instead of just SAYING it, which is a lot harder, of course.
I gave her privacy and she respected mine.
I didn't hit my daughter. First in my family line to break that tradition. Hitting kids is the biggest screw-up anyone makes in parenting—and don't kid yourself that it doesn't affect their sexuality.
The most enlightening thing I ever read about teaching kids about sex is a book called A Kid's First Book About Sex. It is the only book for kids about sexuality that isn't about reproduction and disease— it's about the "everything else" of sexuality. I would actually recommend it to any adult.
I've seen you in person and you looked so ordinary... I was expecting a leather Catwoman suit and a bullwhip. Are you in disguise or what?
I love costumes, but I don't live in one. I’m one of those people who “cleans up real nice,” but otherwise, you’d never notice me in a crowd. I enjoy the idea of being a full- time glamor girl, but in real life I have no patience for it.
Besides, I'm not Catwoman all the time, sometimes I'm just a pussycat. I do love to sew, so if you see me in anything outlandish or original, I probably made it.
Is your sex life as uninhibited and busy as it seems from reading your books?
I haven't lied about any of my adventures that you read about in my stories.
But I’m sorry to say, like most people, I work too hard and don’t play enough. I’ve also lived for more than half a century... so I’ve had some time to see what’s what.
I haven’t set any records; that’s not my style. I’m a romantic, and I get lost in daydreams like any child. I think everyone's imagination is uninhibited, and mine is one modest entry in a crowded field.
Are you a feminist?
Of course! Feminism at its root is pro-sexual, pro-body, pro-intellectual, and absolutely brazen.
What's the difference between porn and erotica?
Here's a personal story about this question, called “My First Dirty Picture,” from The Sexual State of the Union.
Do you record or produce audiobooks?
YES! I am an Executive Producer and consulting Editor-at-large for Audible.com
All of my audiobooks are available at Audible.com, and you'll hear me reading them with great relish.
What's your favorite erotic movie? Book? Author?
I write about my new favorites in my blog on a regular basis. I wrote about my erotic literature classics in my book, How To Write A Dirty Story.
Did you start the magazine On Our Backs?
I co-founded On Our Backs with Nan Kinney, Debi Sundahl, Myrna Elana, and Honey Lee Cottrell. I left the magazine in 1991.
On Our Backs was the first magazine by women about sex. It was the first openly lesbian magazine about anything, and it featured the first erotic women's photography ever published in a magazine. We were the first people to publish a national magazineusing entirely desktop publishing!--- on the very first Macs, and with the first version of Pagemaker.
If you can find a back issue from one of the years I was there 1984-1990, you've got yourself a treasure. The magazine came to a close several years after my departure.
Whatever happened to all the great photos from On Our Backs?
In 1997, I co-authored a book, Nothing But The Girl, with Jill Posener which is an homage to the lesbian photographers who literally created the lesbian erotic image, most of whom I met during my years at OOB. It's a big beautiful photo book of all my favorite artists and pictures.
I heard that you used to be a socialist and a union organizer... What's up with that?
Yes, the underground newspaper I was part of as a teenager, The Red Tide, was a combination of socialists, anarchists and yippies. Eventually I dropped out of high school and joined a group called the International Socialists, who were dedicated to rank and file organizing in several major labor unions.
I worked as an organizer in Teamsters, and was one of the founding members "Teamsters for a Democratic Union." I was first arrested, actually, on a UPS picket line, for telling a supervisor that he was a little prick. I was charged with disorderly conduct and condemned by a Michigan judge who called me a "menace to society." I hope I've done him proud.
Did you go to college?
Yes, after my political group broke up. I had sworn on a stack of Communist Manifestos I would never go to college, so in the beginning, I was quite chagrined. As it turned out, I had wonderful teachers and experiences in school; I’m really glad I attended. Not to mention life-long friends!
When I was 19, I started at Cal State Long Beach, in Women’s Studies and Theater, and then I transfered to U.C. Santa Cruz, where I got my B.A. in Community Studies. Years later, I received my MFA in Creative Writing at New College.
What was it like working at Good Vibrations?
Good Vibrations was the first feminist women's vibrator store, in San Francsico, started by Joani Blank.
It was the first wage job I ever enjoyed. I worked there from 1982-1986.
When I first worked there, it was little bigger than a closet, and I had only a few customers all day. There was lots of time to talk to people about their sexual concerns and ideas, and I read every single book in our library. My boss, Joani, is a brilliant sex educator, and I learned a lot from her.
Good Vibes has gone through a few hands and changes since then— you wouldn't find a place like where I worked, today. It's as extinct as a beatnik coffee house.
When did you start writing about porn? Are you the first woman to do that?
I was the first journalist to write about the porn business, and porn movies, for the mainstream press, rather than the adult trade mags. I used my real name. I wrote about porn as if it were a longstanding part of the film industry, which it is. But my writing was path-breaking at the time, as the mainstream press ignored porn except as a "criminal element."
You can read all my pre-internet porn research, writing, and interviews in my book, The Erotic Screen.
When I joined the “X Rated Critics Organization” in the mid-80s, it was all men. The only magazines that ran stories about porn movies were “dirty” magazines. It was such a different climate than today.
I was the first critic to look at porn as if there was something to learn from it besides how to give a blow job. In a way, I was just doing what Andrea Dworkin was doing— taking porn seriously— except I came to different conclusions.
Do you ever get sick of talking and writing about sex?
No. Sex is like language or science, it's an infinite topic of possibilities and interpretations. I love to think and talk about humanity, and sex is always going to be in the center of that.
Does sex work ruin your own personal sex life?
I haven't found that to be the case. I wrote about this quite a bit in my book, Full Exposure.
You can read my introduction, where I talk about sex and one's personal life. I don't think it's the "sex" in sex work that is the bummer, I think it's the stigma, the often criminalized nature of it, that gets people burnt out.
Sex workers often live with prejudice, secrecy, and disrespect. But because I came at it from the feminist counterculture, the map looked a little different.
Do you write a regular column some place?
I host a weekly audio show for Audible, called "In Bed with Susie Bright." Been going since 2000; I love it.
You can listen to free samples of IBWSB, here.
Oh yes.. you can find film and video clips of me on my YouTube channel.
I've written regular columns in the past for Talking Points Memo, Alternet, Huffington Post, Jezebel, BUST, Playboy, Salon, The San Francisco Review of Books, Penthouse Forum, Libida, and On Our Backs.
When do you go on tour?
I've gone on tour each time I've published a new book. Sometimes I get invited to speak at universities, which usually happens in the spring and fall while school is in session. Please subscribe to my newsletter to get current tour info.
How do you decide where to go?
I want to go everywhere I haven't been, and I love to travel and see old friends. If you have an organization or group that would like to invite me to speak or perform, please contact my booking agent.
Do you have a "famous quotes" page?
Yes, right here. I like to add to it, if you have any suggestions.
Do you have an online collection of photographs of you and your work?
You can find it all on my Flickr page.
Got a comment or question you want answered? You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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