Temple alumna to host writing workshops at local bookstore

Susan Schaefer, 1971 liberal arts and 1976 Master of English alumna, is empowering writers of all levels to craft compelling narratives.

Temple alumna Susan Schafer is collaborating with a bookstore owner on a writing workshop. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

From writing for The Temple News as an undergraduate to self-publishing poems and serving as a columnist for PBS, Susan Schaefer is no stranger to Philadelphia’s literary world.

After spending 35 years in Minneapolis and Maastricht, the Netherlands, Schaefer, a 1971 liberal arts and 1976 Master of Arts in English alumna, returned to Philadelphia about a year ago. Now, she’s partnering with Debra Jansen, owner of booked., a bookstore in Chestnut Hill, to run a six-week personal essay writing workshop beginning Tuesday.

“The workshop is really focusing on how you build a personal narrative, and it’s at the intersection of where writing meets verbal storytelling,” Schaefer said. “The whole idea here is to produce pieces that are meant for the spoken word.”

Her collaboration with booked. emerged from a shared belief in the power of storytelling and the transformative nature of workshops. Schaefer and Jansen aim to bridge the gap between written and spoken word, empowering participants to develop compelling narratives meant for oral delivery.  

Participants will have the opportunity to share personal narratives and learn more about the storytelling process from Schaefer.  Those attending the workshop in its entirety will be able to develop their personal works throughout the six-weeks and verbally share their work y with other participants. 

Before her move, she offered similar workshops in Minnesota, and Schaefer’s recent move made her want to recreate them in Philadelphia.

“She’s resilient, a lifelong learner, she’s always learning and doing something new, so it’s exciting and fun to see what her sort of next direction and next projects are, she’s just a fascinating person,” said Jackie McLaughlin, director for the pre-Health Programs at the University of Pennsylvania, a registered dietician and nutritionist and a long-time friend of Schaefer’s. 

When Schaefer wrote for The Temple News under Editor-in-Chief James Shird, he helped her recognize her potential in reporting. Schaefer was used to only writing essays, but she was able to expand her scope and develop further writing skills.

Her passion for writing and storytelling was evident upon graduation. Regardless of where she found herself professionally with a vast career spanning from education to PR consulting, Schaefer never forgot her roots and dedication to writing. 

Once Schaefer began her graduate studies at Temple, she also took part in a fellowship program and became the inaugural student head of Temple’s English Language Enrichment Center program. Fully fluent in Spanish, she supported any students who needed additional assistance with one-on-one coaching and literacy support. 

Schaefer’s experience with teaching and mentoring made the move toward writing workshops feel natural, as she loves helping others with their craft.  

From 1981 to 1988, Schaefer served as publisher and editor of the South Street Star. Following that, she became an educator at higher education institutions, like Temple.

Until 1988, Schaefer led Ingram & Picker, Inc., a Philadelphia-based PR firm she founded. At 74, she continues to operate her own company, Schaefer Communications LLC. Schaefer has received recognition for her work, including the Silver Anvil in 1997, a top PR award and Temple’s Diamond Award in humanities.

While Schaefer has always engaged in creative writing, much of it has been nonfiction for various publications. Since 2016, Schaefer has been a regular columnist for PBS’s online platform Next Avenue, a curated media and news site for readers over 50.

One of her most memorable pieces, “The Earth Shall Claim Your Limbs: Martijn’s Journey with Anal Cancer,” stands out as a self-published collection of poems and journals reflecting deeply personal experiences as she grappled with the challenge of being alongside a loved one during experimental cancer treatments. 

Many of the entries originally served as online messages to friends and family as updates about her late husband’s treatment, Schaefer said.

“They needed to know what was going on, as we knew with great certainty that it was a terminal illness, but that he was going to go for experimental treatment in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and how that basically ripped my insides out to be with [a] man who I loved so greatly as he bravely took this journey,” Schaefer said. “That piece of creative writing is very close to my heart and I self-published it, and someday I will go back to it to allow it to be a professional work.”

Despite the difficulty in revisiting such profound memories, the work remains accessible online, and the memoir she’s currently working on acts as an introductory novel to the collection of poems.

“She’s had a tremendous life and she’s going to be telling all about it when she writes her book, so she’s a very interesting character, very smart, very talented in so many different ways as a writer, as an artist, she’s always creating things,” said David Meyers, a 1975 Lewis Katz School of Medicine alumnus and friend of Schaefer.  

Those interested in participating in the workshops are encouraged to RSVP

“[The bookstore] has this idea about storytelling that it opens the doors to different worlds and new conversations, and their bookstore has committed to fostering connections through story and bringing people of all backgrounds together,” Schaefer said. “So my idea for a workshop and her idea of what storytelling is merged perfectly.” 

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