MFA Alumna and Animal Enthusiast Releases Second Book

Nicole Martignetti

April 04, 2012

Susan Nusser (MFA, ‘01) loves horses and spending all day at the barn. It’s no surprise that the title of her second book is Kentucky Derby Dreams: The Making of Thoroughbred Champions, to be published this month by St. Martin’s Press. The book chronicles three years in the lives of foals born in the barns of Kentucky’s Taylor Made Farm, a breeding farm notorious for its championship horses. In her book, Nusser unveils the story of the vets, the drugs, the surgeries, the long hours, and the hard work it takes to breed a Derby hopeful. From the birth of the new crop of foals, to the annual yearling sales, and finally to the Derby, Nusser gives the reader an insider’s view of the hardship and heartache that accompany the potential champion horses.

The Thoroughbred industry, says Nusser, “brings together such a diversity of people who are there because they love horses: Sheikhs and music industry moguls and sharecropper's sons and horse-crazy girls from New Jersey. Despite their differences, because they're all horsemen, everyone speaks the same language.” Her book captures the fascinating juxtaposition of the horse racing industry: the serenity of daily life on the farm and the excitement of a multimillion-dollar yearling auction.

This is not the first time Susan has written about competition horses. She explains, “My writing career began when both Maria Koundoura and Pam Painter helped me write a proposal for my first book, In Service to the Horse, which was published in 2004.” The book explores the special bond between equestrian sports horses and the grooms who care for them. She began working on the proposal for In Service to the Horse through an independent study with Maria Koundoura. Later, she worked closely with Pam Painter to finalize her work. Both professors were instrumental in helping Susan turn her writing into a professional book proposal.

Before settling into writing, Susan was unsure where her career path would take her. She admits, “I meandered quite a bit professionally and worked on farms sometimes because it was a nice break, and because it was the only job I could get.” Her first published piece was an essay about fishing with her father titled "Heart of Alaska,” published in the Beacon Street Review's Spring 2000 issue. She has also written about the human and animal relationship for Milwaukee Magazine. Her articles and stories include “All the Pretty Horses” (Milwaukee Magazine May '09), "Zoo Story” (MM August '07) and "Man Bites Dog” (MM August '06).

Today, as a writing teacher at Carroll University, Susan's advice to young writers is to read. Of her students, she says, “The readers are more energetic, more engaged, more knowledgeable and absolutely have a much better understanding of the relationship between a writer and their audience.” Beyond creative nonfiction, Susan’s areas of specialization include animal studies and journalism. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband, daughters, cats and a pit bull. Kentucky Derby Dreams can be purchased in stores and online beginning April 24.