Samuel Snoek-Brown: Author & Professor
My mom is incredibly excited when I tell her I’m talking to Sam. Neither of us have really spoken to Sam in roughly twenty years- although we’ve had the occasional Facebook message or email. Samuel Snoek-Brown is my cousin, an author, and a college professor. I remember him mainly from an image I have of him eating Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents house, but now he lives in Tacoma, Washington, writing and teaching college at Pierce College. Quite a different life than eating rolls in my grandparents’ dining room so many years ago.
After our mutual greetings (my mother included :) ) I know Sam has been writing for basically his entire life. I told him recently about my personal love for Harriet the Spy, and how I would sit out on my driveway and observe the neighborhood. He sent me a link to a post on his blog titled “The Book That Made Me A Writer”, detailing his love for Harriet. Is it just a family thing or a writer thing? Writers- let me know if you too were inspired by Harriet.
Sam’s love for writing grew from reading Harriet the Spy at nine years old. By the age of twelve, he knew he wanted to be a novelist. He had a vision of being one of the youngest published authors, going on Oprah, and becoming famous world-wide. (Spoiler Alert: this isn’t exactly what happened.) Sam says, “For whatever reason- my dad actually took an interest in my passion for writing.” One weekend, his dad took him to a writing workshop. As they arrived to the classroom the workshop was to be held at, Sam began to feel a little… out of place. He was the only man in the room (well, uh- boy). All of the other women were much older than him- in their thirties and above. As he sat down to get ready to learn, he quickly realized that he was so out of place because this particular workshop was for people who wanted to write harlequin romance novels.
Well. Not exactly his genre. Regardless, Sam took studious notes. (After all- you can learn something from just about every event in life, right?) And so he continued his journey to becoming a published author.
Sam has a pretty impressive resume, so I ask him about which award makes him the most proud. After a moment of thought, he says that being awarded the Oregon Literary Fellowship in 2013 was one of his more meaningful moments. The Oregon Literary Fellowships “are intended to help Oregon writers initiate, develop, or complete literary projects.”
Sam says that up until that point, he was deeply affected by ‘Imposter Syndrome’. I think most of us have felt like imposters at least one time in our lives- especially when we are working to do things out of our comfort zone. “Imposters” often feel that despite their achievements and knowledge they may already have, they are not qualified to be as respected as they are. Receiving the Oregon fellowship helped Sam to see how supported he was by those around him, and showed him how people believed in his work.
In addition to writing his own works, Sam teaches at Pierce College- where he does a lot of cool things like coordinating the student literary arts magazine. When I ask him what drives him to not only write for himself, but also work with students he shares one of his favorite quotes:
“When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” - Toni Morrison
Sam knows he has his foot in the door of the authoring world, and taking Morrison’s quote to heart, it is now his time to open that door for other people. He notes that often- writers feel that they are completely alone. “We are not in this alone,” Sam says. By connecting people to others he knows- writers, publishers, etc- he connects them with a greater writing community and shares his success with others.
Since Sam teaches courses that students may take for electives or because they have to, I ask him how he balances educating a class divided into those truly passionate and those just trying to get by. He says he simply assumes everyone is a writer as soon as they walk through his classroom door.
“Treat them as a writer. Take them seriously.” It’s that level of respect for fellow writers and potential writers that makes Sam an effective and encouraging professor.
“So, where do you find inspiration for your writing?” I ask Sam. He tells me about how his first major inspiration came from a moment where he was actually introducing another author at an event. He did some research about that author’s works and discovered a plethora of content about the Civil War. Sam suddenly envisioned the Louisiana bayous during the same era. The result was Hagridden- the story of two women stranded and alone in those bayous in the post-apocalyptic era of the end of the Civil War.
Sam also finds inspiration from the world he grew up in- good ol’ Texas. He often sets his stories either in Texas or surrounding areas.
"Too many artists quit because it didn't happen the way they thought it would."
I ask Sam about other young people looking to their passions? What advice would he offer them? The first bit is simply patience. “Too many artists quit because it didn’t happen the way they thought it would.” Sam’s story certainly didn’t turn out the way he imagined it as a young boy, but does missing his television spot on Oprah make him a failure?
Sam’s success lies in his devotion to sharing his craft with others. By nurturing young minds in his classroom, by connecting people to each other and building their communities, and by putting his own work out into the world.
Sam also states that you need to trust yourself. “Doubt creeps in when things take a long time.” Oh, humanity- always in a hurry. That I Want It Now Syndrome will destroy your spirit quickly. You may not be successful immediately, but you should trust that your purpose is possible, and the work you’re doing is helping you to grow.
Sam seems sure of what people are capable of. “Success will happen; you have to be present.”
I thank Sam again for talking with me, but I have one last question before I let him go. “What is your spirit animal?”
Sam gets excited, and he is definitely prepared to answer this question. He tells me that when he was in school, he always rode the bus to meet his mother who was a school teacher. There was a girl who also rode the bus, who was kind of… unique, often talking about Tarot cards and other mystical concepts. One day, she decided she was going to discover his spirit animal. She confidently told him that he was, in fact, a bear. He shrugged it off, and basically forgot about it.
Years later, he was at a writers workshop. Working in groups, the writers (along with their guides) gave each other new names. The name Sam was given? Curious Cub. Sam immediately flashed back to the girl on the bus. “Holy crap!” He thought, “She was right!”
You can find more information about Sam & his works at snoekbrown.com