WE "SAT DOWN" WITH SUEANN SHIAH AND GOT REAL ABOUT ACTIVISM, POP-PUNK, AND #directorswearingscarves.
SueAnn is part of the Art As Justice: An Intersectionality Panel at the Nashville Festival. Join us (and SueAnn!) for the 2nd Annual Nashville Festival. Learn more and RSVP here.
Level Ground: What are you excited about today?
SueAnn Shiah: Today, I am excited about Level Ground! I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and also making new ones there.
LG: Share with us who you are these days.
SS: These days, I am a music producer and audio engineer, in the middle of production a couple projects with a variety of artists here in Nashville. I am also promoting my documentary HuanDao, which is premiering on October 19th here in Nashville. I am engaging with anti-racist work in a couple different frontiers included but not limited to—my church and my alma mater Belmont University, so activist. I am writing poetry and music; I am also blogging on occasion when my time allows me. But as a person, a human, the most core of my being, I am a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, great sinner, redeemed by a great savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the one thing that I know more and more every day and continues to sustain me in my multi-faceted and complicated life. It’s who I am, who I’ve been, and who I will continue to be, this I know.
LG: Tell us about a project of any kind that another person is working on with you.
SS: I am currently in the middle of production on my close friend Iman Nadeem’s Rekindle EP. It’ll be six songs. We’ve been writing, working, and recording since June. The genre/style is rock, more along the lines of pop punk, which is not typical of most of my clients. Nashville is an indie/Americana/singer-songwriter kind of town, and this genre is not super well represented. It’s been pushing and stretching both of us as we’ve embarked on this journey together, but it’s also been very beautiful as we’ve both grown and embraced these challenges—emotionally, spiritually, technically, and musically.
LG: Why and how did you get connected to Level Ground?
SS: Last year, I found out about Level Ground maybe a day before the festival? Jennifer Knapp retweeted Derek Webb (I used to nanny his kids, welcome to Nashville!) saying the two of them would be doing a panel at the festival. I saw it on my timeline, so I followed the link, and thought, “Wow, this looks amazing.” And carved out the time I could muster to attend as much of the festival as I could and was inspired by the people I talked to, heard, and met, so much so, that I told everyone that if there was anything I could do next year to help, I would love to contribute because I believe in their mission and methodology.
LG: Tell us about the last Level Ground event/project that you participated in and why you chose to do it.
SS: I participated in the Nashville festival last year. I attended a film screening and meal and went to the opening session where I got to hear some musical performances and see a lot of the art that was on display.
LG: What was the first thing you ate today?
Fried rice, quick and simple, things I had in the house to throw together a meal.
LG: What does it mean to be in dialogue with someone and how has that been a part of your life?
SS: To be in dialogue with someone is to be in relationship. To be in relationship with another person is sacrifice: of comfort, of convenience, and of self-righteousness. It is humility. Whether I am dialoguing with people about issues of race, gender, or sexuality, it is almost always in the context of a relationship, ideally, one of a mutual respect and love, of concern for the other’s wellbeing, otherwise our exchange is exploitation, not dialogue. My existence in the faith communities that I am a part of is a statistical anomaly; and it requires sacrifices of my time, my body, my love, and my spiritual and emotional capacity.
LG: What is the last book that you read and how would you pitch it to a stranger if you had written it?
SS: I just read Drew Hart’s “Trouble I’ve Seen, Changing the Way the Church Views Racism”. This book is what you need to read if you are a Christian who wants to engage in issues of race. Hart thoughtfully and intimately uses his own personal experiences as an African American man, connects them to the church’s muddied history with racism, and then offers concrete steps for readers to engage; all the while, not setting up his own experiences as the ruler with which to measure, but as a signpost to point others to a deeper and broader understanding of the healing needed by the Church..
LG: Tell us about your profile picture on your favorite social media platform or on your email account.
SS: My profile picture is currently a selfie I took after a sixteen hour day of editing for HuanDao. My friends and I like to joke about the trope of film directors wearing (frequently unnecessary) scarves, so I tagged it #directorswearingscarves. There is also a rainbow unicorn butt peaking out behind me that’s part of a giant letter some of my old campers a few years ago colored for me.
LG: What is concerning to you about the future, whether personally or more broadly.
SS: My concerns for the future, personally and broadly, probably center around there being a place for someone like me in my church and faith community. Someone who at the core of their being loves and worships God, finds scripture authoritative, desires to live a life in humility and service to the glory of God, loves the Church as their own body, and experiences intense marginalization by society and the Church.
LG: What brings you hope about the future, whether personally or more broadly?
SS: What brings me hope is things like Level Ground, and the people I meet at festivals like Level Ground. It gives me hope personally and for the corporate body of believers we like to call the Church.