Life of Words and Letters

Susan Wyndham (1975) is a long-time journalist and writer whose life has been defined by her unwavering love for the written word and passion for literature.

Early days at Ascham: nurturing a love for words
Susan began her education at Ascham, which she attended from Kindergarten through Year 12. Her memories of those formative years are filled with the joy of learning and the camaraderie of friends who have remained close.

As a student, Susan’s love for writing and reading shone brightly. She consistently ranked at the top of her class in English, a subject that fuelled her passion for words. At Ascham, she found an environment that nurtured her interests and allowed her creativity to flourish. She fondly recalls an English lesson under the shade of the fig tree, where she and her classmates penned haikus while observing ants busily going about their business. In that moment, Susan recalls she experienced a profound sense of creative fulfilment that would stay with her for a lifetime.

The Ascham Renaissance: a transformative moment
Susan was in Year 10 when Rowena Danziger assumed the role of Deputy Head at Ascham under Headmistress Miss Roberts, bringing ‘a breath of fresh air’ in her ‘short skirts and boots’, and a wave of innovative ideas. Recently returned from the United States, Mrs Danziger’s arrival marked a significant shift in the School’s culture, moving it away from its traditional image as a ladies’ college and towards a more scholarly and rigorous environment. Susan vividly remembers the impact of Mrs Danziger’s leadership and was eagerly looking forward to discussing Anna Funder’s latest book, Wifedom, with her on the very evening of our interview.

A literary journey: from the University of Sydney to the Sydney Morning Herald
After completing a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English literature at the University of Sydney, Susan embarked on a career in journalism, starting as a cadet with the prestigious Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). Over the years, she penned an array of news stories and features, showcasing her versatility across a broad spectrum of topics.

In 1984, Susan began writing for the newly created Good Weekend magazine and ascended to the role of editor in 1986, cementing her status as a prominent figure in Australian journalism.

A move across the ocean: New York and beyond
In 1988, Susan started a new chapter in her life, relocating to New York to be with her then-boyfriend now-husband Paul Sheehan. For eight years she served as a correspondent for The Australian newspaper and colour magazine, writing with the perspective of an Australian living abroad.

In 2008, Susan published Life in His Hands: The True Story of a Neurosurgeon and a Pianist, covering the career of controversial surgeon Dr Charlie Teo. She followed this in 2013 with My Mother, My Father: On Losing a Parent, a series of essays by Australian writers.

A literary odyssey: the Hazzard-Harrower letters
Two years ago, Susan was presented with an exciting opportunity by Brigitta Olubas, Professor of English at the University of NSW. She was invited to co-edit a collection of letters exchanged between Australian writers Shirley Hazzard and Elizabeth Harrower over a 40-year period, covering an extraordinary era of world history. Both women were politically engaged, knew many writers, and shared what might be called a complicated friendship. This project has allowed Susan to delve deeply into the personal archives of two remarkable authors whom she had interviewed and befriended. It’s a project she embraces with passion, relishing the chance to explore Australian literature with greater depth than ever permitted her by the fast pace of the media industry. The book will be published in mid-2024 by New South Books.

Words of wisdom and a career of freedom
For aspiring writers, Susan offers sage advice: ‘Start writing sooner. Don’t be discouraged by feeling you don’t know what you’re doing. Just write. And seek advice from people you admire. People always want to give advice!’

In the past six years since leaving the SMH, Susan has been working from home, pursuing her interests in freelance writing, book reviews and literary events. Her career has taken on a less intense pace, allowing her the freedom to work on projects close to her heart, truly savouring this phase as she continues to craft her own narrative.

Susan’s journey from Ascham to the global stage of journalism and literature serves as an inspiration for all who dare to dream and put pen to paper. Susan’s life is a vivid testament to the transformative power of words, a legacy that will continue to inspire generations to come.

Written by Alexandra Wenderoth (Beer 1993)

24 Nov 2023

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