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Inspiring Signing : Essence Magazine’s Susan Taylor Charms Fans at CSUN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The bubbling beehive of black women waiting for author Susan L. Taylor was buzzing with anticipation.

Her columns about life--how to survive it, embrace it, and rejoice in it--had pulled many through hard times. Sometimes, her words just made a rough day at work seem bearable.

So when the elegantly dressed columnist and editor-in-chief from Essence Magazine slipped into the Matador bookstore at Cal State Northridge for a book signing Tuesday evening, the bees swarmed, hugging her and hoping to be stung by the writer’s overflowing positive energy.

“It’s so nice to see you,” said one man, smiling and laughing as he took her hand. “My son is in love with you. But I told him he would have to wait on that one.”

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For more than a decade, Taylor’s commentaries on finding a spiritual center and seeking “quiet time” breaks from this crazy world have provided inspiration for many of the 5.2 million subscribers to Essence Magazine. The monthly column, called “In The Spirit,” is particularly popular among black women.

“She uses life experiences in her stories,” said Reseda resident Kathy Williams, who darted from work at Valley College to catch Taylor’s appearance. “It’s like you’re having a one-on-one conversation with her.”

In this month’s essay, Taylor uses a man’s recent unruly and unwanted solicitation of her in New York as a way to discuss respect between black men and women. She even sends a challenge to her own husband. The language in her books and columns is always simple, the solutions she offers very practical.

“The health and well-being of black people require black men to stand up, to send a message that you will be punished for defiling black womanhood,” she wrote this month. “Anything less constitutes collusion in our genocide.”

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Wearing a sandy brown wraparound blazer and matching ankle-length skirt, Taylor, 49, dazzled the audience of about 75 people with anecdotes from her own life and with advice on matters of faith.

“We are trained to think that spiritual power is outside of us--in mosques, churches and synagogues,” Taylor said. “But divinity comes from within.”

The book signing was sponsored by members of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women.

The chapter’s founding president, Barbara Perkins, met Taylor this summer when the two were a part of a 110-member delegation of black women to the International Women’s Conference in Beijing.

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Perkins, a former flight attendant, heard about the book Taylor was writing, called “Lessons In Living,” and decided her new friend had to make a trip to the Valley.

Perkins, giggling, recalled: “I said, ‘Susan, nobody comes to the Valley. But the Valley is great.’ ”

Though she has buddied up with the likes of Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey, Taylor said celebrity is not constant sunshine.

“Money nor celebrity don’t guarantee happiness or any type of permanence,” she told the audience. “Some of those people are terribly miserable. We need something more complex than hair, money or clothes to create happiness.”

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CSUN microbiology major Brian Singleton was one of the few males at the book signing. Singleton, who said Taylor was an “inspiration because of what she stands for,” described her messages of personal uplift as universal.

“She has messages about life that cut across gender lines and I can really appreciate that.”

“She symbolizes success,” Perkins said, beaming. “Here was this woman who started out as a single mother and made it. Just the whole idea of a woman like her making it in New York City shows she is committed.”

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Even CSUN President Blenda J. Wilson, herself a longtime reader of the magazine and Taylor’s column, stood in line to get a book signed.

“There is spiritual value in her writing,” Wilson said while mingling with students. “It’s very powerful.”

As she does on every book stop, Taylor took suggestions and notes from audience members.

“This is how I get material for my columns,” she said, laughing.

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