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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Alumna writes on pumpkin farming

Susan Warren does not grow 1,000-pound pumpkins. She only writes about them.

In her first book, Backyard Giants, UH 1985 alum Warren wrote about the perseverance of Rhode Island pumpkin growers.

Reviewers, such as Booklist magazine, called Backyard Giants "hilarious yet enlightening," and Kirkus Reviews said that Warren’s first attempt was "quirky and surprisingly affecting good fun."

On Saturday, she visited Brazos Bookstore, on Bissonnet Street, to sign copies of her book.

Warren’s aim was to tell the story of what it takes to grow 1,000-pound gourds and reasons why someone would put so much effort into the endeavor, she said. The topic was not a lifelong interest, but one that she delved into after writing a newspaper article about it for The Wall Street Journal.

"Sometimes life just takes you by the hand. It was not just ‘Oh wow giant pumpkins.’ It was ‘How on earth do they get those pumpkins so big?’" she said.

Warren realizes that giant pumpkins aren’t at the top of everyone’s reading list, but the book is much more than that.

"What’s the value in a book about giant pumpkins? I spent a lot of time thinking about that," Warren said.

"It really boils down to having a goal and staying focused on that goal, and being able to endure disappointment and stick it out for the long haul," she said.

Warren spent about a year researching and writing the book and taking weekend trips to Rhode Island to meet with growers.

She meanwhile kept her regular schedule at The Wall Street Journal which, "basically meant 12 months without a day off," Warren said.

The Rhode Island gardeners, the book’s central characters, have been growing massive pumpkins for years. Warren said the value of growing huge pumpkins is people’s willingness to spend so much time, energy and money every year trying to produce that award-winning pumpkin.

People grow the pumpkins to participate in county fairs and compete in "weigh-offs" across the country.

The hard work paid off for one pumpkin grower, Warren announced at the book signing. The grower set a new record for the world’s heaviest pumpkin: 1,689 pounds.

In Warren’s student days at UH, communications professor emeritus Ted Stanton acted as one of her mentors. Warren worked at The Daily Cougar, where she went on to be the editor in chief in fall 1984. After college, Warren wrote nine years for the Houston Chronicle. She now is the Dallas deputy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal.

Warren, who majored in communications, said that her college years molded her into the person she is now.

"I think there is a time when you’re young and you’re innocent and you’re not paying attention. All I can say is when you’re in college, it’s the time to begin," she said. "It’s the time to begin to open your vision to the wider world and start learning how things work."

She has continued that path in her career as a reporter, which gives Warren freedom to write about topics she finds interesting.

"(The Journal is) a wonderful place for a writer to work because they see the value in telling these different kinds of stories," Warren said. "They realize the world isn’t all about the stock market or Wal-Mart or oil and gas prices."

Warren has covered a broad range of subject – from people who make a living selling silly putty by the pound to covering the first Gulf War. Either way, authoring her first book marks quite an accomplishment for Susan Warren.

"Like the pumpkin growers, I stayed focused on my goal to get it done," Warren said. "It was a story worth telling. In the end, it’s just one story out of millions of stories in the world, but it was still a story worth telling."

Backyard Giants is listed at $24.95 and is available at Brazos bookstore and can be purchased online.

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