Suzanne Shaw founded the Women’s Literature Review.
Suzanne Shaw founded the Women’s Literature Review. (Baltimore Sun)

Suzanne Shaw, a social worker whose love of female authors led her to found the Women's Literature Review, died of complications from dementia Dec. 1 at Copper Ridge, an assisted-living facility in Sykesville. The Radnor-Winston resident was 60.

The daughter of Norman Shaw, a salesman, and Joyce Shaw, an educator, Suzanne Shaw was born and raised in Murray, Utah, where she graduated in 1972 from Murray High School.

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While a student at the University of Utah in 1970s, Ms. Shaw grew interested in urban studies and applied for an exchange program that offered a year at one of several colleges. On the list was Morgan State University.

When she told people in Utah that Morgan State was her first choice, they were somewhat shocked at her selection.

"Here was this young woman from Utah, from an overwhelmingly white college, choosing to go to a historically black college in Baltimore," said a daughter, Sophie Nathan of Philadelphia. "They tried to talk her out of it, and the more they tried, the more fiery and determined she became."

Ms. Shaw was so impressed with Morgan State that she came back for a second round of classes and decided to settle in Baltimore after graduation.

She earned a bachelor's degree in political science with a concentration in urban studies from the University of Utah in 1978. While raising her two daughters, Ms. Shaw earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland.

In the early 1980s, she worked for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and was the volunteer coordinator at Health Care for the Homeless. From 1985 to 1989, she was a Montessori school teacher.

"She was passionate about many problems, but particularly tenants' rights, better housing for poor people and mental health issues," said Mary Jo Kirschman, a longtime friend who met Ms. Shaw in the late 1970s after she moved to Baltimore.

Ms. Shaw, who had a lifelong interest in literature, believed that female authors deserved more attention than they were receiving from book reviews and award committees and decided to remedy the situation.

After canvassing friends and various book groups, Ms. Shaw made the bold decision in 1996 to found the Women's Literature Review. The publication's motto was simple and to the point: "A book should be chosen as carefully as one's friends."

In an introductory essay in the 12-page inaugural issue, Ms. Shaw explained that the review was born out of frustration regarding female literature.

"I often felt stuck about where to discover new books and authors," she wrote. "There was so much out there I didn't trust because it was unfamiliar. Through two book clubs, I have been introduced to some new authors, but I still feel this void."

Ms. Shaw's quest for material took her to libraries and bookstores. She searched through old anthologies in hopes of unearthing forgotten gems.

She sat at her desk in her Crowson Avenue home, writing her essays and book reviews in the hopes they would led to a provocative and in-depth discussion in a book group.

"I need the pleasure of discussing books in a group," she said.

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Her taste was eclectic. Ms. Shaw favored novels over nonfiction and preferred novels about the working poor rather than those about the middle class or wealthy. She loved a good mystery.

She developed a fondness for the writing of Southern women.

"There is a softness to it, a lilt missing in books from other regions of the country," she wrote.

Ms. Shaw employed a format of lists to keep her readers informed. She was the editor, writer, publisher and subscription agent.

While she had many contributors, she never had a partner, and after three years and 10 issues, she made the decision to end publication.

"I have decided that I do not have the energy to do both the marketing required and put together a quarterly newsletter along with other obligations in my life — raising children, volunteering at their schools and maintaining a household," she wrote in a farewell "Message from the Editor to Readers."

"It has given me a sense of accomplishment and has been an indulgence of the greatest pleasure — doing what one truly loves and creating an audience to enjoy it," she wrote.

Ms. Shaw enjoyed traveling and returned often to Utah and Wyoming.

"She loved the Grand Tetons best of all," her daughter said.

She also enjoyed having parties. She was a longtime fan of folk music and for years made an annual pilgrimage to attend Pete Seeger's Clearwater Revival festival on the Hudson River north of New York City.

Ms. Shaw was in her mid-50s when she was diagnosed with the early-onset dementia that eventually claimed her life.

A memorial celebration for family and friends will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Ms. Kirschman's home, 2910 Overland Ave., Lauraville.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Shaw is survived by another daughter, Lloyd Sheridan of Baltimore; a brother, Chris Shaw of Westminster, Colo.; and two sisters, Jenny Shaw and Katie Shaw, both of Salt Lake City. At her death, she was legally separated from Nick Sheridan.

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