I Need To Write Like I Need Air! An Exclusive Interview With Suzanna Molino Singleton. [L’Idea Magazine]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

From Baltimore comes a multifaceted Italian American author who loves to write inspirational columns and articles, but also about her Italian roots, , and obviously Baltimore, besides being  the Director of a Nonprofit organization and being active in the Italian American Community. With so much to discover about her activities, we asked her directly about them…

L’Idea: Suzanna, you have a varied background when it comes to writing: articles, books, websites and even being an editor. When did this passion for writing start to show in you?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: In high school, I excelled in English classes and writing – it was my favorite subject. I was part of our school’s literary magazine club, and I enjoyed editing my friends’ papers. That era was the first point of thinking, “I want to be a writer.” I need to write like I need air! Editing is one of my favorite parts of being a writer. I very much enjoy editing projects and helping others to sharpen their writing into stronger, uncluttered sentences. I would like to be a writing coach for young professionals and/or high school/college students.

L’Idea: SNIPPETS is one of your creations. What is that about?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: The idea to begin writing an inspirational column for women literally popped into my head one day in 2006. I heard a little voice say “write this,” and SNIPPETS Inspiration was created – I’ve been writing and distributing it every Friday since. I refer to SNIPPETS as a “think-out-loud” e-column. I generally begin each snippet with a personal experience, anecdote, or reflection, and transform it into an inspirational message from which “we” can learn as we practice self-care and self-growth, and validate each other as humans. Each issue also includes a joke, a quote, and “prayer flares.” Many times, a reader will email to say a snippet seemed to have been written just for her. I refer to those readers as “snippeteers;” the column has a devoted following of just under 600 – some men, too – who have come to expect it to land in their email each Friday morning at 6 a.m. I also post it across social media. Reactions to each issue from readers across the U.S. (including one in Italy and one in Australia!) are published the following week as “snippeteer backtalk.”

L’IdeaIs your 2016 book “Flying by the Seat of My Biking Pants: Reflections on life as we pedal along” a collection of your snippets or something completely different?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: Yes, that book is a partial collection of SNIPPETS. Since I enjoy riding my bicycle on a nearby hike and bike trail (and along the beach while living in Florida during the winter), I head home usually inspired by an experience or a thought while pedaling, and ready to write my next column. The outdoors provides me with much inspiration – nature is my favorite and quietest place to think. (And I love my bike!) [SNIPPETSinspiration.weebly.com]

L’Idea: You also write a column, “Snippets of Faith,” for The Catholic Review (Archdiocese of Baltimore). What do you write about in it?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: I was asked to begin that commentary column by a former colleague, now my editor; we had worked together as staff reporters at The Catholic Review newspaper 2005-2009 in Baltimore. I thought it appropriate to tag it Snippets of Faith, following in the spirit of SNIPPETS Inspiration. I have the freedom to write as often as I like, whenever I’m inspired, and on whatever topic inspires me – related to the Catholic faith, of course: prayerful reflection, current issues, local people and parishes. The piece I last wrote was titled, I am a white mamma of biracial children, timely in the midst of black injustices and protests happening around the country. [archbalt.org/category/snippets-of-faith]

L’Idea: You clearly have a lot of love for your city and your heritage. You wrote “Baltimore’s Little Italy: Heritage and History of The Neighborhood” in 2015 and you just completed a new book, “Italians in Baltimore.” Are these two books complementing each other? Could you tell us how important is the Italian footprint on this city?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: Baltimore boasts a very large Italian community. I would say the Italian footprint here is very important. Not everyone, of course, lives in the neighborhood of Little Italy, immigrants had settled all around Baltimore. Yet Little Italy still has a solid handful of Italian immigrants and their families as residents. It has many family-owned Italian restaurants; the hub of the Italian community is our beloved Italian Catholic parish, St. Leo the Great, built exclusively for Italian immigrants in 1881. Our Italian community consists of some older and younger immigrants, plus us first-, second-, third-, and fourth-generation Italian Americans.
As the proud granddaughter of four immigrants (from Luras, Sardinia and Vasto, Abruzzo), I feel quite passionate about being Italian and feel very connected emotionally to my ancestral line. My Nonna Antonica (Cabras Mossa) was a large influence in my life until 2001 when she died at age 90. She was born in 1910 in Urzelei, Sardinia; the island to which I have traveled nine times so far (not done yet!) to visit our family of Mossa cugini (cousins).
In 2010, I established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Promotion Center for Little Italy, Baltimore; as its volunteer director, I promote the history, heritage, and events of Little Italy, where my paternal grandparents began life in America. I naturally began collecting pieces of its history and in 2014 was approached by a publisher (History Press) to write a book. In 2019, their sister publisher (Arcadia) asked me to write another Italian-related book, and Italians in Baltimore is now in production. That includes almost 200 wonderful vintage photos submitted by families of Baltimore Italian immigrants. The two books definitely complement each other. I market them through Promotion Center for Little Italy so it receives any revenue and often I set up a book booth in Little Italy during our two summer Italian festivals and other events.
A third Italian-related book, The Italian Immigrants’ Daughter, I co-authored with my now 86-year-old mamma, Gina Mossa Molino. That is about growing up with Italian immigrants, most specifically, Nonna Antonica. Her most intriguing story happened after World War II when Nonna returned to Italy after her husband died young and tragically in Baltimore, and dragged along her three Italian-speaking American children who were forced to adjust to life in a foreign culture.

L’Idea: You are the Editor of Neighborhood News from Little Italy. When was this newsletter born and what is its goal?
Suzanna Molino SingletonNeighborhood News from Little Italy is a monthly e-newsletter I produce for the Italian community and others who wish to subscribe (free); it is sent to over 9,000 email addresses. Since I am founder and director of the 501c3 nonprofit Promotion Center for Little Italy, Baltimore, the publication was a natural platform on which to distribute event information and news on Baltimore’s Little Italy. Its goal is to attract visitors and the Italian community into the quaint neighborhood of Little Italy to support its Catholic church (St. Leo’s), family-owned restaurants, bocce courts, Italian cultural learning center, and various events. The newsletter also supports my organization’s mission to promote the heritage and history of the neighborhood.

L’Idea: You are married to sports celebrity Ken Singleton, a retired Major League Baseball player and current television baseball broadcaster on The YES Network / New York Yankees, and you wrote a book with him. How did that work? What is the book about?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: During 2009-2013, I wrote a column for yesnetwork.com and mlb.com, Mrs. Singy: Married to Baseball. The book, Married to Baseball: Between innings with Ken Singleton … Mrs. Singy’s stories of baseball life that have nothing – and everything – to do with the game, is a compilation of that column, plus other stories and insights Ken has shared. It includes a bit of everything: emotional, comical and entertaining life-in-baseball stories, Hollywood stars, odd things fans have mailed to Ken, sad stories about teammates and our friends who have died, and other human interest stories.

L’Idea: You also wrote three more books. Could you talk a bit about them?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: Between 1997-2000 I produced a series of ‘how to’ books which are now out of print and outdated: Clever Gift Giving, Clever Party Planning, and Clever Costume Creating for Halloween. It was through that process I taught myself about self-publishing and marketing books and learned what a true challenge it is! Books sell one by one, marked even more challenging today by the swarm of opportunities to read online, sell books online, and the millions of blogs and websites offered by people who think of themselves as writers.

L’Idea: What other activities are you involved in?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: I enjoy yoga, Zumba, swimming, walking, bike riding, crossword puzzles and word games, the beach, and bike riding on the beach! Family and friendship time are crucial in my life and I invest deeply in my relationships with energy and time. I like quaint and unique local coffee houses and love good coffee. Travel is a large part of my life – I’ll go almost anywhere, yet, of course, Sardinia Italy is my favorite destination. I like discovering and reading off-the-wall books not on the best seller’s list – as long as they include good writing. If not worthy writing, I will set a book aside; it’s challenging having an editor’s eye to look past bad writing or too many copy errors. I enjoy nonfiction more than fiction; it seems I learn more. I also like journaling and have pretty notebooks and journals sitting on my office shelves from various segments of life. The current one I am perusing is a gratitude journal.

L’Idea: What literary project do you think will follow “Italians in Baltimore?” Maybe it will be a novel? Are you already working on any new projects?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: Writing a book takes a tremendous amount of focus and hundreds of hours. It is like assembling a large jigsaw puzzle. Each time I finish one, I say, “That’s my last book!” as I sigh in relief, and yet somehow, here I am on book number eight. (I wrote a novel once long ago – it is unpublished.) No “next” plans at the moment to write another book, but we should never say never, right? A Florida friend and fellow writer has encouraged me to enter several of my books in literary contests – I had never done so before. As well, she introduced me to a writer’s magazine which contains many contests, such as entering short stories. I wrote my first one (Italian-related, of course, based on a true 1929 story in my family), which was accepted for publication in an upcoming book produced by L’Idea. I enjoyed writing it so much, I plan to write more short stories.

L’Idea: You travel often to Sardinia to visit your family, but you are not 100% Sardinian. Can you describe what else attracts you about that part of the world?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: My maternal nonni are from Sardinia; my paternal nonni from Vasto, Abruzzo. Although I have not been around the world, I have been to many places; Italy always will be my favorite. Specifically, the island of Sardinia; more specifically, the ancient village of Luras. I belong there – it is my “other life.” Nonna Antonica lived there. Since I was extremely close to her, it is my sincere honor to return to her paese (also that of my Nonno Giovanni Mossa). I sleep in their bed, I stay in their house – the same house in which she grew up with her parents, my bisnonni, Rosa and Giacomo. Being there, living in the authenticity, walking around the village, imagining them surrounding me, sitting in the church pews where they did, visiting their graves … is like nothing I have experienced before. I feel quite passionate about Luras – obsessive almost – and wish I could be there more often.

Panoramic view of Luras

It feels like a movie set – quite surreal. It is old and crumbling and simple. I’ve visited nine times since 2001 – and as I said earlier, I am not finished yet! My Sardinian cousins and I are very close; we stay connected through texts, phone calls, and Facebook. Our families are connected through a deep history. It’s a delightful experience every trip, and I feel even more connected with Nonna Antonica while there. I cry when I leave. I cannot fathom the level of emotional upset Nonna experienced on the day she left her mother and father in 1929 for America.

Luras; Dolmen

L’Idea: If you had the opportunity to meet someone, anyone from any historical period, who would he or she be? What would you like to tell them and to be told?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: I would like to meet my bisnonna, my great-grandmother Nonna Rosa DeMurtas Cabras, who lived in Sardinia (in the very house I stay) until her death at age 99 in 1975 – I was a teenager in high school. It drives me crazy to this day that it would have been possible to have met her! I could never understand how my Nonna left Sardinia as a young adult in 1929 and did not return to visit her mamma until 1964 – and then never again. I would like to hear Nonna Rosa’s growing up stories in such an ancient time; ask how she felt when my nonna left home; and how it feels for her to watch me from heaven so obsessed with my Italian ancestry and their old village.

L’Idea: Any message for our readers?
Suzanna Molino Singleton: I’ll share my favorite quote: If you love what you do … you’ll never work a day in your life. When people say they are not happy in their work and wish to do something else, but aren’t sure what, I’ll ask them, “What is your passion?” When we can combine our work with our passions, and do what we feel most passionate about – that’s the best work we will ever produce!