Thursday, March 8, 2012

Suzanne Strempek Shea: Award-winning author rooted in faith, Polish heritage, experience

One of my favorite Polish-American novelists is Suzanne Strempek Shea, the author of the wonderful Selling the Lite of Heaven and Hoopi Shoopi Donna.

She recently gave an interview to the online journal MASSLIVE.  Here's the piece:

Award-winning local author Suzanne Strempek Shea can easily rattle off certain life experiences that have helped her evolve as a writer: her Polish background, growing up in a rural setting in Three Rivers, working as a newspaper reporter, surviving breast cancer, losing her dad and her best friend, both suddenly and unexpectedly, and how she views her faith.

All of these events – and then some – have shaped the 53-year-old author of “Selling the Lite of Heaven” and four other novels, as well as “Sundays in America” and two additional memoirs, and countless articles for newspapers and magazines.
She doesn’t go around pinching herself, but Strempek Shea says she feels so fortunate to have a life and career that have brought her accolades for her very detailed and often humorous writing style, and opportunities to share what she’s learned with budding writers.

One of those opportunities occurs at Bay Path College in Longmeadow where, three years ago, Strempek Shea started working as a writer-in-residence after having served as an adjunct professor there since the early 2000s. The opportunity to teach creative writing is more than a paycheck.

“Right now, I have 17 students, so I am getting 17 lessons every day on inspiration and perseverance, how to tell a story and how to get the work done,” said the winner of the 2000 New England Book Award that recognizes a literary body of work’s contribution to the region. “They’re showing me how to do it, and hopefully it’s an even exchange.”

In between her classroom teaching and mentoring other writers as a consultant, the Bondsville resident is finishing up her next book, a true story about Mags Riordan, an Irish educator who raised money to help build a medical clinic in the African nation of Malawi in memory of her late son.

One of the perks of being an author allows her the freedom to travel so she can write and teach. Ireland is one of her favorite locations to draw inspiration. During one visit, she got the idea for her novel “Becoming Finola,” about a young woman in search of herself who works in a small shop in a fictional town in Ireland.
Jokingly, Strempek Shea tells her students who want to be writers to “get in with a family who has relatives in cool places,” just as she did with her husband, Tom Shea, whose parents came from Ireland and who has other relatives over there.

When not in the classroom or across the ocean, Strempek Shea and her husband, a longtime writer and columnist for the Springfield Newspapers, take their wealth of knowledge and experience as writers on the road to local venues to share with wannabe authors about how they could fulfill their literary dreams.

“We’re kind of like evangelists a little bit. We love reading and writing and going around with our boxes of books and showing people,” she said. “(Our careers) have gotten us a very nice life. Why can’t other people try it if they want to?”

That spirit of sharing experiences led Strempek Shea to voluntarily hold a “Writing as Healing” workshop last September for survivors of the June 2011 tornado in Monson and other affected areas, noting “their stories are of historical and cultural importance to the town and the region.”
And for six weeks starting in March at the Hitchcock Free Academy in Brimfield, a grant will allow her to mentor other tornado survivors at a workshop with the potential of turning their stories into a book if they so choose, she said.

Like the tornado victims, Strempek Shea knows life changing events. Such as the time she was an infant and had a serious bout of pneumonia. Or when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and underwent radiation treatment. Or when her best friend Rosemary Wojtowicz died at age 23 in a horrible car accident.
These experiences could easily sour a person on feeling there is anything positive to believe in. But then, there’s her faith.

“It’s what I lean on,” she said. “I pray every morning and night. I do it for gratitude but I also hope things will go better for other people. I realize how lucky I am.”

God isn’t the only recipient of Strempek Shea’s appreciation.”Every time I speak, I start by saying I’m grateful to readers because if nobody reads, I wouldn’t get to do this,” she said.


If you want to read more about Suzanne, here's a link to her webpage.  Just click here.


off kilter said...

Suzanne is a wonderful writer. I have all her books, and once met her in person. She is a charming storyteller whether on the stage or on the page.

Halina said...

I read "Hoopi Shoopi Donna" many years ago and I still remember the book. She is truly an incredible writer.