The One City, One Book launch this week welcomed LCF resident Charlotte Maya, the author of “Sushi Tuesdays,” at its annual event, a collaboration with the book club committee and the La Cañada Flintridge library.
A tradition for 16 years, the One City, One Book gives the community a chance to have a citywide book club. The committee’s goal is to foster a love of reading and to encourage discussion of good books.
“Sushi Tuesdays” is a critically acclaimed memoir about Maya when she found herself widowed at 39 years old after her husband died by suicide.
She was out for a hike with her two sons and the family dog and when she returned home, she was met with a policewoman, a policeman and a priest in her driveway. When they told her how her husband died, she had no idea he was suicidal. The book takes readers through grief, loss and hopelessness, but is also a journey of new beginnings.
Event emcee and committee member Elza Gross introduced Maya to the community Sunday and felt an even more special connection to the author since she knew Maya since she was a young girl.
“Charlotte is a woman of great accomplishment,” Gross said. “She graduated from Rice University, she got her [law degree] from UCLA, and she has become an author, which I think is so exciting.”
Gross started off by asking why Maya was compelled to share her story.
“I felt like suicide was a story demanding to be told,” said Maya.
“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country, but we don’t like to talk about it,” Maya told the Outlook Valley Sun. “And yet, talking about suicide is one of the most effective ways we know to reduce suicides; talking about suicide also reduces the stigma and shame surrounding people who have died by suicide and those of us who’ve lost someone we love to suicide.”
Gross also asked Maya about the incredible community support that she received after her husband’s death.
“I had women whose names I did not know on my front porch with dinner for me and my kids,” she said. “That was one thing that surprised me. I feel like grief is not meant to be carried alone. … I think life routinely hands us more than we can handle, and that’s why we have each other. And I don’t think that I knew that before Sam’s death.”
She talked through part of her journey after discovering that her husband died by suicide and began questioning herself and what she should have done differently and if she missed anything.
“There are still things I don’t know and [I’m] coming to terms with that [and that] I will never actually know,” she said. “The one person who could give the answer to that question is no longer available to me, and [I learned] to live with the unknown.”
The book also takes readers to when Maya opened up and fell in love with a man who lost his wife and had two boys of his own. The two are now married and have blended their families together.
She remembers telling her boys, “I don’t know what’s going to happen [or] if I’m going to meet somebody special. But here’s the thing I know about love: If somebody special does come into our lives, our hearts will grow. And there’ll be a new space just for him. And it doesn’t take over the daddy space.”
Part of her journey is also spreading awareness on suicide itself and changing the narrative of how the community talks about it.
“One of the things that the risk of shame and stigma surrounding suicide [does] is that it reduces the person we love to the last moments of their life,” said Maya. “And that’s not true. And it’s not fair. So, that is one thing that especially family can do is talk about Sam. Especially now, they love to hear stories about their father, they love to hear about interactions that people had with their father because he was so much more than how he died.”
She shared a resource for people to call if they ever find themselves or someone else in a mental health crisis. The number, just like 911, is 988, and connects a person to another human to talk to.
“This is not the advocacy work I thought I would be doing, but I do feel passionately that we have to develop a fluency around suicide,” Maya said.
The book took Maya 10 years to write, which started with blog entries.
“I started writing a blog, sushituesdays.com, and after posting every Tuesday for several years, I had a lot of writing but not a cohesive narrative,” she said. “So, it took several more years and quite a few drafts to learn the craft of writing a full-length memoir.”
Now with the success of her book, Maya is glad to see that her story has resonated with many people.
“It’s gratifying to me to know that ‘Sushi Tuesdays’ resonates with people,” she said. “I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been touched by a suicide, and the fact that people are talking about this national health crisis in ways that are healing and thoughtful and also sharing their own stories gives me hope.”
Maya has based her book in LCF and has lived most of her life here.
“I grew up in La Cañada and graduated from LCHS in 1986 and moved back in 1996 when my husband and I were thinking about starting our family,” she said. “I still live in LCF, so obviously I love this place and the people here.”
Committee chairwoman Julia Hastings told the Outlook Valley Sun that the One City, One Book committee members read and consider many different titles before choosing a book.
“We view the event as a communitywide ‘book club’, bringing readers together to hear the author discuss and illuminate the story and the writing process,” said Hastings.
In the past, they have chosen works of fiction and nonfiction and have hosted many authors, including Robert Crais, Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, Mark Salzman, Alan Brennert, Zoe Ferraris, Ron Carlson, April Davila, Steve Lopez, Ronald C. White, Kendra Atleework, Chris Erskine and more.
Hastings said that “Sushi Tuesdays” stood out to the committee for its writing, the story that takes readers from loss and sadness into hope and new beginnings, and also because Maya lives in LCF and the book takes place there.
“Of course, I was thrilled when they called me,” she said. “I’ve attended the event several times, and it’s a bit surreal to have written this year’s book selection.”
To join the committee, Hastings said that a person must be an avid reader and be willing to read widely and come to meetings prepared to recommend and discuss books. If interested, residents can give their information to Mark Totten, the LCF library manager.
“We would love to welcome a few new younger members — perhaps book group friends who value reading and would like to help continue to bring the author event to the community,” Hastings said.
To learn more about Maya, visit charlotte-maya.com.
First published in the November 2 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.