Hill bookstore to offer narrative writing workshops


Susan Schaefer, whose own life story makes a compelling must-read, will guide aspiring storytellers in six consecutive personal narrative writing workshops at booked, 8511 Germantown Ave. starting April 4.  

Co-founder and editor of the now-defunct South Street Star bi-weekly newspaper, Schaefer is an independent journalist whose work appears in PBS’ online magazine, Next Avenue, and Philadelphia’s Broad Street Review. She is a long-time adjunct professor of writing and poetry at Temple University and Philadelphia Community College. She has also published a book of poetry and an illustrated children’s book and is currently working on a memoir. 

Bookstore owner Debbie Gress Jansen told the Local she is offering the workshops because “We believe that storytelling opens doors to different worlds and new conversations … and bringing people of all backgrounds together.” 

Schaefer, who grew up in Mt. Airy in the 1950s and '60s and attended Leeds Jr. High and Girls High School, said, “I have wonderful childhood memories. As children we called all of our neighborhood elders 'Aunt' and 'Uncle' and their first name rather than Mr. or Mrs. Front doors were not locked, and neighbors hung out on their tiny porches in the summer with transistor radios tuned to the Phillies’ games.”

Decades later, while working as Consulting Director of Communications for Cuningham Group, a Minneapolis architecture firm, Schaefer went to the Netherlands to recruit three acclaimed riverfront architects to help revive the then-desolate Minneapolis Riverfront. There Schaefer met her future husband, Martijn Hermse.

The couple married on Valentine’s Day of 1996 and settled happily into life in the twin cities, where Martijn practiced philosophy, his field of scholarship, and became a shiatsu therapist. Schaefer ran her own firm, Schaefer Communications, and was recruited to several leadership roles in the Twin Cities, and served as Chair of the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Minneapolis Program.

Eventually, the couple moved to Maastricht, Martijn's home in the Netherlands, a medieval city where Schaefer earned a PhD equivalent in European Public Affairs (EPA) in 2005 at Maastricht University, where she also began teaching.

“The EPA program had 27 much younger students from 19 countries,” said Schaefer. “I was 54, and the average student was 24!”

However, shortly after they settled into their new home, Martijn discovered a small lump that turned out to be a squamous cell cancer that was an almost certain terminal diagnosis.

“Our bright new world darkened in an instant,” said Schaefer. “We had planned on staying an additional year or two, but with a cancer diagnosis we could not return to the U.S. in a pre-Obamacare world. My husband faced this unimaginable ordeal with the utmost grace and dignity.”

He underwent experimental surgery that required amputating his buttocks, anus and rectum. It was a “heroic operation that would not cure his cancer but might buy us a little extra time together,” she said. 

“Martijn defied all odds, recovering his ability to walk the very day he was allowed to move, and once he was released he even swam with his amazing small 'bag' all but invisible under his trunks,” Schaefer continued. “We regained a modicum of joy together for an unexpected 10 months.”

Martijn died in July 2008, two days after his 56th birthday.

Schaefer later moved back from the Netherlands to Germantown, where she had lived as a graduate student at Temple University before moving to Minneapolis decades earlier. 

She earned her MA in English Literature at Temple and went on to teach English as a Foreign Language at the Centro-Colombo Americano in Bogotá, Colombia, and was later appointed director of the ECHO Homeless Program for Volunteers of America in Camden, NJ.

In 1997 Schaefer was honored with Temple University’s Diamond Achievement Award in Humanities, given once a year to three alumni who exemplify the highest standards in humanities, social science and science achievement. “It remains the most important award of my life,” said Schaefer.

For more information: 267-900-2999 or hello@bookedch.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com