by Barbara Sherf
The definition of a muse is somebody who is a source of inspiration for an artist, especially a poet. Opening Saturday, Sept. 10, in Chestnut Hill is a place for writers to gather called the Musehouse: A Center for the Literary Arts. Oreland resident Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, 55, a retired English teacher, is serving as a muse to many in the form of her book of poems and in bringing Musehouse to life following the death of her daughter, Leidy. In 2003, Leidy, a nursing school graduate was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who was later convicted of the crime and is currently serving a life sentence.
“Leidy is here. Her spirit is all around us, and she would have loved this place,” said Bonanno following a recent informal gathering of 20 interested writers and supporters.
Bonanno passed around a wish list with everything from tissues to a handyman to tighten up hinges on used furniture and install bookshelves. While a storytelling workshop will be among the many courses offered this fall, Bonanno’s own personal story is one worth listening to.
Four days after the murder of her 21-year-old daughter in 2003, Bonanno was compelled to write her feelings down in the middle of the night in a poem titled “Poem About Light.” That poem, along with 41 others, led to an award-winning book, “Slamming Open the Door.” Two of the poems were nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize, and the volume, which received a rave review in the New York Times, went on to become a bestseller in 2009 for poetry books.
The national attention and book signings also led to her desire to create a place for others to write, participate in workshops and public readings and hold launch parties for their books.
“After Leidy’s death, I realized how fleeting life can be, and while I had the idea for this place for some time, I knew I needed to act on it,” Kathleen said in a recent interview with her and her husband, David, an editor at the American Poetry Review, following the gathering.
The Bonannos adopted Leidy, and their son, Luis, from Chile in 1986. Luis is now a roofing contractor who also lives in Oreland.
David Bonanno, who stayed in the background most of the evening, privately shared his feeling that his late daughter would be proud of the new facility.
“She was not a literary person. After Leidy’s death, we were trying to find active ways to process the death, and Kathy used writing, which was a gift for all of us,” he said.
This past spring, Musehouse received a $50,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation and was one of 36 winners from a pool of more than 1700 applicants.
“We will see if what we are offering is what this community wants,” she told her audience.
A total of 17 courses will be offered at the center in the areas of poetry, memoirs, book clubs, SAT Tutoring and a teen magazine workshop. In addition to the Grand Opening, there are four other special events planned for the fall semester, including a Monster Mash comprised of a reading by Carolina Morales from her book, “The Bride of Frankenstein and Other Poems,” fiction reading by Brian Francis from his horror novel, “The Trail,” and an art exhibit of monster portraits by Harry Boardman.
Longtime Chestnut Hill resident, Barbara Russell, who had a store for many on the 8400 block of Germantown Avenue specializing in needlepoint, has published a book on the subject and was interested in finding out what the Musehouse had to offer.
“This is a place where I hope writers can gather and have launch parties or sit and talk about marketing their book,” Bonanno told the audience.
“It’s a fabulous concept and one I fully embrace,” said Russell.
Wyndmoor resident Marianne Fluehr welcomed the new place as well. “We thank you for this much needed place. We need to come together as a writing community,” said Fluehr, who has written personal reflection pieces for the Local as well as several short stories.
Located on the first floor of 7924 Germantown Avenue, the Musehouse has an inviting enclosed front porch, a sitting area with sofas and cushioned chairs, a conference space for workshops and a place to serve food. Outdoor furniture is also on Kathleen’s wish list.
“I would love to have some writers sit outside during the summer months and do readings or simply enjoy each other’s company,” she said. “I want this to feel like a home for writers.”
The Sept. 10 Grand Opening starts at 7 p.m., and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call 267-331-9552 or go to www.musehousecenter.com.