I chat to writer, speaker and yoga instructor Suzan Colón about the magazine industry, trying new things and working with Vogue.
“I love talking about magazines – I wish they were as prevalent today as they used to be,” says the former Senior Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine, Suzan Colón.
As we chat about our shared love for magazines, Suzan tells me of how her varied and successful career began, with an internship at what had been her favourite magazine as a teenager, Star Hits. The music publication was the US equivalent of the UK’s Smash Hits and was initially set up by Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant.
“It was such a fun magazine, and I was just such a big fan of it,” she reminisces.
Once she obtained a permanent role, Suzan spent seven years interviewing and writing articles in an office full of music fans and posters, which she likens to a “teenager’s bedroom”.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a job, I was working with my closest friends, we were doing ridiculous things, just writing all day and listening to music.”
After years working in the industry, her final magazine role was with O, The Oprah Magazine, which published its first issue in 2000. During her time as Senior Editor, Suzan worked on topics which she says came to matter very much to her, such as spirituality, self-improvement, and personal betterment.
“The magazine under Amy Gross was phenomenal – it had a lot of gravitas,” she says.
“It was not merely a woman’s magazine, there was nothing about dieting in there, it was about being healthy.”
Unfortunately, the 2008 recession meant a lot of people lost their jobs. Suzan tells me this, mixed with her desire for a change from the corporate life led to her “striking out on her own”.
“In every recession, magazines are among the first things to go,” she laments.
“A combination of recession and the internet have really hurt magazines.”
Since then, Suzan has gone on to write several books. Her first, Cherries in Winter, was inspired by finding her grandmothers’ recipes and making them with her mother.
The idea was very popular among publishers, and Suzan explains her joy at the book going to auction as half a dozen publishing houses were competing for publishing rights.
Suzan is also a yoga teacher, having trained at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York. Her latest book, Yoga Mind, is a culmination of everything she has learnt in many years of practicing yoga and taking yoga teacher training.
The book goes ‘beyond the physical’ aspects of yoga, discussing how it is just as much an activity for the mind.
She was inspired to write the book after teaching breathing exercises and elements of yoga to a friend who was left paralysed after a diving accident.
“From his wheelchair he became my greatest yoga teacher,” she says.
“[He] embodied all of the principles of yoga philosophy and yoga’s spiritual principles, and nothing to do with what everybody thinks of yoga being a physical practice.
“He was such an inspiration I really wanted to write about him,” she adds.
Suzan describes how all of her projects come from wanting to share her interests and passions.
She says: “The things that I’m interested in I want to find a way to share them with people.”
Another of Suzan’s passions is knitting, which she first discovered in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks.
“I lived a mile from the World Trade Centre at the time and I was home the morning of the attacks,” she tells me.
“I cannot put into words the feeling of terror, sadness, shock – smoke was going past my window – I could see the fires from my balcony.
“It was a life-changing event, and not in a good way.”
Soon afterwards, a friend asked if Suzan would like to accompany her to knitting classes taking place at a local yarn shop.
“The world felt very big at that time, and I was able to just bring it down to what was right in front of me,” she says.
“It very quickly became an obsession.”
With her yoga background, the repetitive stitches reminded Suzan of certain forms of meditation, and she came to the realisation that knitting could perhaps work for those who struggle to sit and enjoy traditional meditation.
As it had assisted her so much in her personal practice, Suzan set up MedKNITation as a way to introduce others to the mental benefits of knitting.
She believes that fibre arts (working with fabric or yarn) are a way for people to reclaim some hobbies and interests that are in danger of being lost due to the digital age, and also as a way to find some peace.
It was not long before Vogue magazine called to discuss MedKNITation and invited Suzan to give a talk, which 160 people attended.
“I was so grateful to all of those people for showing up,” she says.
“I think the most important thing that people who know how to knit and crochet can do is to teach another person.
“It’s an honour, it’s a real honour to be able to pass that along to somebody.”
In preparation for the conference, Suzan knitted 400 small red love hearts, accompanied by personal hand-written messages as a gift for attendees.
She shows me one of the intricate hearts over Zoom, finished with a card which reads – ‘Your kindness is contagious’.
“I just wanted to spread kindness all over the conference,” she says.
She tells me of an organisation she works closely with in New York City called Knit the Rainbow, who distribute handmade garments to homeless LGBTQ+ teenagers.
They heard about the love hearts and asked Suzan to knit 800 to be attached to garments. She tells me of how the knitting community rallied around, using patterns on her website to knit or crochet a heart to help.
She wrote out 800 messages of support and encouragement for the recipients. For example, ‘you are perfect just the way you are’.
“It was one of the most wonderful things I have ever done,” she adds.
Vogue Knitting Live
Suzan now helps to run Vogue Knitting Live, a four-day conference which started in 2020 and occurs once a month.
For $3.99, attendees can visit the marketplace, where there are presentations and interviews. Suzan teaches morning meditation at each one and conducts interviews with people from the world of fibre arts.
Suzan, who also teaches cartooning classes at an online art school, is multi-talented, yet incredibly and refreshingly modest.
“I never set out to teach art classes, but people requested that I do it,” she says.
“I really still can’t wrap my head around that, I should be taking the lessons not teaching the classes!”
She continues: “I’m very happy being a beginner – in anything.
“Whether its yoga or knitting or drawing, I’m very happy at a beginner level because I subscribe to the spiritual theory of having a beginner’s mind.
“You learn a lot more when you don’t think you know too much!”
Gracious and warm, she is full of advice for someone hoping to enter into a career in writing, a field she continues to have a lot of love for despite her wide range of interests.
During our conversation, I mention just how varied her career has become, to which she says – “It’s a little strange, all of it, but it seems to have worked out!”