Shea, Suzanne Strempek

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SHEA, Suzanne Strempek

PERSONAL: Born in MA; married; husband's name, Tommy (a columnist for the Springfield Union-News [MA]). Education: Graduated from the Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art). Hobbies and other interests: Playing the accordion.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 468, Thorndike, MA 01079. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Author, 1994—. Formerly staff writer for Springfield Newspapers, Springfield, MA and the Providence Journal-Bulletin, Providence, RI.

AWARDS, HONORS: New England Booksellers Association chose Hoopi Shoopi Donna for the "Discovery of the Month", June, 1996; Oskar Halecki Prize, Polish American Historical Association, for depiction of the Polish experience in the United States; New England Book Award for Fiction, New England Booksellers Association, 2002, for contribution to New England literature.


Selling the Lite of Heaven, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Hoopi Shoopi Donna, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Lily of the Valley, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Around Again, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Songs from a Lead-lined Room; Notes—High andLow—from My Journey through Breast Cancer, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Yankee, Boston Globe Magazine, Philadelphia Inquirer, and New England Monthly.

SIDELIGHTS: Suzanne Strempek Shea works in both fiction and nonfiction. She began her writing life in journalism as a staff writer for various newspapers in New England, among them the Providence Journal-Bulletin and the Springfield Newspapers. In 1994 her first novel, Selling the Lite of Heaven, was published. Her novels are generally considered to be character driven, revolving around a young woman who lacks a clear sense of herself or her direction in life. To this end, the author employs a device by which the protagonist brushes against something unexpected and powerful that propels her into a process of self-discovery. Shea has been recognized for her realistic portrayals of ordinary life in the Polish-American community.

Shea's debut novel, Selling the Lite of Heaven, concerns a young woman, well ensconced in her small Polish-American community, who decides to sell her engagement ring after her fiancée chooses a life in the Church. Her contact with the prospective buyers stimulates some reflection on the course of her life and it is clear by the end of the book that some changes will be made. Shea uses the realistic details of everyday life and gentle humor to create a portrait of a young woman beginning to seek her place in the world. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote, "A promising debut that with shrewdness and a lively display of humor reminds us just how much drama there can be in the everyday."

Hoopi Shoopi Donna is set in a Polish-American community and again revolves around a young girl who comes to establish herself by means of an accident that resulted in a misunderstanding and a painful break with her father. The culture of Polish-American life plays a larger role in this book—(the title is the American pronunciation of a Polish polka)—than it did in the previous title. Hoopi Shoopi Donna was chosen by the New England Booksellers as its "Selection of the Month" for June, 1996. In January, 1998, the Polish American Historical Society awarded this novel the Oskar Halecki Prize for its contribution to research on the Polish experience in America. Library Journal contributor Barbara Maslekoff noted that Hoopi Shoopi Donna "captures the agonies and ecstasies of ordinary and extraordinary family life."

In Lily of the Valley, the author continues her practice of character-driven novels in a story of an ambitious young woman from a small town in Massachusetts. Lily Wilk knew at an early age that she wanted to be an artist. She declares her ambition by saying, "Someday, I will make something that people will stand in line for hours just to look at and study and be struck by. Then satisfied beyond belief, they will travel all the way home in stunned silence, reflecting how they have been changed in some vital way by the sight of a thing made by my own right hand." She draws and paints ceaselessly, but without gaining the fame she desires, until one day she receives a commission for a group portrait. As this picture comes to life, Lily achieves a clearer understanding of her world, her family and herself. All of the reviews agree that Shea's attention to the details of ordinary life make this an engaging, if sentimental, novel.

Finding oneself through adversity also drives the action of Shea's fourth novel, Around Again. This time the protagonist is a woman in her forties whose involvement as a teenager with two other people created a summer of confusion and fear. The characters meet again in middle age, endure another episode that mirrors the first one, but resolve the mysteries and mature.

Notes from a Lead-lined Room: Notes—High and Low—from My Journey through Breast Cancer is an account of Shea's radiation treatment for breast cancer. The memoir begins with her diagnosis at age forty-one and continues through to the completion of her treatment. With her customary attention to everyday detail, she describes the emotional highs and lows, the psychological changes, and the response of friends and family. The result is a very complete picture of a harrowing experience. Shea is frank in the expression of her outrage at the diagnosis; after all, she was someone who "liked [her life] the way it was." She wrote this book to encourage and give comfort to women in similar circumstances.



Booklist, May 15, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of Selling the Lite of Heaven, p. 1664; August 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Lily of the Valley, p. 2029; June 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Around Again, p. 1849.

Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 1996, Yvonne Zipp, review of Hoopi Shoopi Donna, p.15.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1994, review of Selling theLite of Heaven, p. 503; April 1, 1996, review of Hoopi Shoopi Donna, p. 483; June 15, 1999, review of Lily of the Valley, p. 908; May 15, 2001, review of Around Again, p. 695.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 5, 1994, Tanya Barrientos, review of Selling the Lite of Heaven.

Library Journal, April 15, 1996, Barbara Maslekoff, review of Hoopi Shoopi Donna, p. 124; July, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Lily of the Valley, p. 136; June 1, 2001, Ellen R. Cohen, review of Around Again, p. 218; April 1, 2002, Bette-Lee Fox, review of Songs from a Lead-lined Room: Notes—High and Low—from My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation, p. 132.

Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1996, review of HoopiShoopi Donna, p. 54; July 5, 1999, review of Lily of the Valley, p. 59; July 9, 2001, review of Around Again, p. 46; March 18, 2002, review of Songs from a Lead-Lined Room: Notes—High and Low—from My Journey through Breast Cancer, p. 86.


Capital Times (Madison, WI), (June 7, 2002).

EducETH, (June 7, 2002).

SR Web site, (June 7, 2002).

Suzanne Strempek Shea Web site, (June 7, 2002).*