Shafer, Audrey

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Shafer, Audrey


Born December 7, in Philadelphia, PA; father a playwright, mother a costume designer; children: Thomas, Rebecca. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1978; Stanford University, M.D., 1983. Hobbies and other interests: Poetry.


Home—Mountain View, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


Anesthesiologist, educator, and author. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, resident in anesthesia, 1984-86; Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA, staff anesthesiologist, 1989—; Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, fellowship in clinical pharmacology, 1986-87; associate professor of anesthesia, 1997—, and member of faculty of Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, beginning 2003.


American Society of Anesthesiologists.


Sleep Talker: Poems by a Doctor/Mother, Xlibris (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.

The Mailbox (young adult novel), Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media, edited by Lester D. Friedman, Duke University Press, 2004. Contributor to academic journals, including Anesthesiology, Journal of Medical Humanities, Academic Medicine, and Family Medicine. Contributor of poems to periodicals and anthologies.


Audrey Shafer is an anesthesiologist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and an associate professor at Stanford University, where she directs the Arts, Humanities and Medicine Program. "I think the arts can help mitigate suffering," Shafer told Steven Winn of the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition to her work in the medical field, Shafer is also the author of the young-adult novel The Mailbox, "an evocative picture of the weblike nature of human existence and the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate experiences," according to School Library Journal contributor Faith Brautigan.

Raised by parents involved in theatre, Shafer developed an early interest in literature and the arts. "I grew up backstage, because my mother was a costume designer," she told Gas Pipeline online interviewer Patricia Rohrs. "Hence my childhood was influenced by playwrights, particularly Shakespeare, Molière and [Samuel] Beckett. My father, a playwright, was heavily involved with the Philadelphia literati of the time, who were mostly poets. I remember a poetry reading by Gerald Stern whose poem included the image of a Fanta orange soda bottle—my first clue that poetry could contain ordinary details." Shafer, who began writing poetry as a teenager, credits Denise Levertov with stimulating her interest in the written word; before she became a faculty member at Stanford, Shafer attended a poetry workshop conducted by Levertov. "She taught me that writing is a way to see the world," Shafer commented to Rohrs. Since then, Shafer has published a number of poems in magazines and anthologies, and she released Sleep Talker: Poems by a Doctor/Mother in 2001.

Shafer published her debut work of fiction, The Mailbox, in 2006. Geared for teen readers, the story concerns an orphaned boy's relationship with his uncle, a reclusive Vietnam veteran. The idea for the novel came to Shafer a few years earlier, during the buildup to the Iraq War, as she noticed that her patients at the veteran's hospital felt the need to talk to her before they entered the operating room. As she told Rohrs, "Many described their own wartime experiences; others commented on the youth and innocence of those being deployed—the veterans were deeply concerned about young people being put ‘in harm's way.’ I was moved by this witnessing and by hearing their deep-felt empathy."

The Mailbox centers on twelve-year-old Gabe, a foster child who had been shuttled from one home to another until he was sent to live with his Uncle Vernon in Virginia. After returning from his first day of school, the sixth-grader finds his uncle dead on the floor; grief-stricken and worried about having to reenter the foster care system, the youngster decides not to report the death. When Gabe comes home the next day, however, Vernon's body has disappeared, and an anonymous note left in the mailbox states, "I have a secret. Do not be afraid." As the days pass, the mysterious correspondent helps Gabe to survive, and through a series of messages the youngster develops a better understanding of his uncle's past. Shafer "builds a story finely balanced between mystery—who is Gabe's benefactor?—and meditation," observed Washington Post Book World contributor Elizabeth Ward, and a critic in Kirkus Reviews remarked that the narrative "conveys the power of memory to help heal wounds." According to BookPage online reviewer Dee Ann Grand, Shafer "weaves a remarkable story clearly influenced by her deep understanding of the characters involved."



Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 2006, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Mailbox, p. 191.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2006, review of The Mailbox, p. 1024.

San Francisco Chronicle, July 23, 2003, Steven Winn, "Scientists Are Coming Around to the Idea That Art Can Heal."

School Library Journal, November, 2006, Faith Brautigan, review of The Mailbox, p. 152.

Washington Post Book World, November 26, 2006, Elizabeth Ward, review of The Mailbox, p. 191.


Audrey Shafer Home Page, (October 17, 2007).

BookPage, (November, 2006), Dee Ann Grand, "Enveloped in Secrets," review of The Mailbox.

Gas Pipeline Online, (November, 2006), Patricia Rohrs, "Audrey Shafer, MD, Author of The Mailbox.", (October 17, 2006), Terry Miller Shannon, review of The Mailbox.

Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Web site, (October 27, 2007), "Audrey Shafer."

Stanford University Web site, (October 17, 2007), "Audrey Shafer."