City Limits and the Center for an Urban Future lost a dazzling colleague and dear friend on September 5. Associate Publisher Susan Harris sold ads, handled business accounts, managed payroll and helped produce the Weekly. But that’s just a job description.
Much more important, she was an extraordinary human being with a life to match. The baby-faced 36-year-old was born in England, her accent still detectable in words like “rather.” When she was 5, her family moved to the Bronx, and then later to Queens, where she met and married Derrick Calinda. After a stint in the Air Force and the birth of her son, James, she made her way back to the Bronx, now a single mom.
It didn’t take Susan long to break into publishing. She started at Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar, but found her niche at City Limits. She said she chose the small nonprofit over a better-paying job because she believed in our mission (and because she could wear sneakers every day). Susan’s commitment to City Limits was obvious. She constantly looked for ways to boost ad sales and circulation, along with our morale. Despite an endless subway commute, she was always the first person in the office and usually the last one out.
Eventually, Susan began funneling what she learned into her own semi-secret project, Mahogany, a quarterly magazine geared toward women of color who “think, play, create, love and live outside the box.” Just like her. After one issue, with virtually no advertising, she had more than 500 subscribers.
Susan and I became friends over late-night deadlines and early-morning chats, dissecting our up-and-down love lives, our jobs, our plans for the weekend—and beyond. She was a lively storyteller and thoughtful listener, quick with blunt advice. When I told her last winter that my heat was out, a space heater magically appeared at my desk. Talk of renovation brought a thick stack of Metropolitan Home magazines, lugged from the Bronx. Resolutely unsentimental, she still remembered everyone’s birthdays.
Susan was also fierce, a hot mama with a dragon tattoo and a sarcastic sense of humor that spanked us all. If she didn’t like something, she didn’t complain, she just changed it, whether that meant trying a new hairstyle or dismantling a computer. She wasn’t afraid of anything, and she wasn’t willing to settle.
Susan consistently shot past limits in search of new experiences, deeper knowledge, more joy. In her final blog entry on the Mahogany web site, she writes: “There is a point in everyone’s life when they come into their own… I’m not saying that publishing the magazine is an easy endeavor, in fact it is even harder now than it was several months ago—but the manner in which I operate now has a grace of its own. In the midst of chaos I am at peace.”
It’s a tragedy that someone who appreciated life so much didn’t get more time to enjoy it. We enjoyed every minute we got to spend with her.
Susan is survived by an exceptional son, a budding filmmaker who is just as intelligent, good-looking and independent as his mother. We wish James and all of Susan’s family our deepest condolences and strength going forward.
City Limits Weekly
Funeral arrangements: A viewing will be held on Sunday, Sept. 12 from 2-6 p.m. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 13. Both gatherings will be at Granby’s Funeral Home, located at 4021 White Plains Road (betw. E. 226th and 227th Sts.) in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. Granby’s Funeral Home can be reached by taking the #2 train to E. 225th Street, and walking two blocks north. By car, take the Bronx River Parkway north to E. Gun Hill Road, make a right on E. Gun Hill, then a left on White Plains Road.
Contributions are being collected by City Limits and will be given to Susan’s son, James, who starts college next year. Please make checks out to City Limits, 120 Wall Street, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10005 with “James Calinda” in the memo line. For more information, call (212) 479-3351.