By Jonathan Farrell
Author Joseph Sutton, a retired Abraham Lincoln High School teacher, recently published his 14th book, “In The Time of My Life: Selected Writings.”
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Hollywood, Sutton was educated at the University of Oregon and Cal State University, Los Angeles. He developed an immediate affinity for San Francisco while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. As soon as he got the chance, he relocated to San Francisco in the ’70s, setting down roots and creating a life with his wife, Joan, and their son Ray.
Like most writers, his soul searching and travels brought him to discoveries not found in a conventional or conservative life. The move to Hollywood was essential for Sutton to become the writer he is today.
Five years ago when Sutton published “The Life and Death of Abraham Massry and Other Stories,” he revealed that his Jewish background was of Syrian descent. The civil war in Syria had erupted less than two years prior to the book’s release.
Sutton was and still is taken aback at the brutality of the conflict and how much the people have suffered and continue to suffer, their lives uprooted not freely in quest of opportunity, but from turmoil. This type of tyranny, according to Sutton, could occur in the United States, as he describes in his short book “Trump Times.”
“My story, as told in the ‘Abraham Massry’ book, was that I grew up in Los Angeles. The Syrian Jews of Los Angeles were a very small community compared to the very large community in the New York metropolitan area, where it’s estimated that between 75,000 and 100,000 Syrian Jews live. My parents lived many years in Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community before moving to L.A. in 1941 when I was a year old.”
Sutton later became a teacher and taught high school in South Central Los Angeles in the mid- to late-1960s before moving to San Francisco. He realized, while teaching there, that marginalization and prejudice takes hold when people are isolated.
“The Life and Death of Abraham Massry” is about a Jewish immigrant from Syria who wants his American-born son Jake to follow the business and marriage path taken by him and his ancestors.
“While growing up, I wasn’t known as a Syrian-Jew outside of my house,” said Sutton. “I was known only as an American or a Jew. No one in the Los Angeles public schools I attended knew about Sephardic/Syrian Jews. They thought, just like most people, that if a person’s ancestors lived in the Middle East then that person was an Arab.”
Sutton’s years teaching in South Central Los Angeles revealed the limitations groups of people have when marginalized by race, color, nationality or religion. The experience was significant to Sutton.
“The Watts Riots left a profound and bitter impact,” he said.
It was this experience, detailed in his novel “A Class of Leaders,” that made Sutton more determined to live a truly independent life; helping others to realize their potential for greater fulfillment and accomplishment.
This is something he brought with him to San Francisco and sought to instill in his students while teaching at Abraham Lincoln High School. Now retired from teaching, he devotes himself to writing full-time and promoting his works.
Praised by poet Judy Levy-Sender, she sees Sutton’s work as “one-of-a-kind.” KGO Radio host John Rothmann said of Sutton’s latest book, “In the Time of My Life,” “In his selected writings he weaves an enchanting and entertaining spell.”
To learn more about Joseph Sutton and his works, visit www.joesutt.com.