Susan Parker Bloom
Susan P. Bloom, an educator beloved by legions of former students who became successful writers, editors, teachers, and book advocates, and who spent her working life spreading the gospel of children’s books, passed away peacefully at her home in Framingham on June 7, 2019. The cause was ovarian cancer. She was 80 years old.
Susan was born in Boston on November 29, 1938, the second daughter of a salesman and a seamstress. Her parents, Benjamin Parker and Lillian (Pinksohn) Parker, raised her in Brookline. Susan was twelve when her father died, but her mother made many of Susan and her sister Lois’ clothes, and her deft way with a needle and thread supported the family.
She attended Brookline High and received a BA in English from Simmons College (now University) in 1960. Susan began her career teaching English at Newton North High School, where she supervised student teachers from Simmons for many years. On August 29, 1965, Susan married David Bloom at Longwood Towers in Brookline. David was fond of saying “My life began when I met Susy,” and they shared that life for almost 52 years. They settled in Wellesley in 1966, where they lived for 40 years, and where they raised their cherished daughter Johanna, who entered the world in 1971. In 2013, Susan and David happily moved into an in-law suite in a home that Johanna and her husband purchased in Framingham.
Susan eventually returned to Simmons College and obtained a master’s degree in Children’s Literature. Soon after, she was hired to teach in the Simmons English Department’s freshman writing program. In 1986 she became the Director of Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the Children’s Literature Graduate Program. During her time as an Assistant Professor and subsequently, as Associate Professor, the Master of Fine Arts in Children’s Literature was created, she served on The Horn Book review staff, was twice chair of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, and twice served on the prestigious Newbery Award committee. She was also an annual lecturer at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. With co-author Cathie Mercier, Susan wrote biocritical studies of the writers Avi, Russell Freedman, and Zibby Oneal. Cathie, current director of the Center and the graduate degree programs, praised Susan’s visionary stewardship of the nation’s first graduate degree programs in children’s literature. “Susan’s reputation as a critic and as a creative spirit fortified the University’s status as a leader in children’s literature,” Cathie said.
When she retired from Simmons as Associate Professor Emerita, Susan’s family, friends, and alumni established the Susan P. Bloom fund to support the Center’s distinctive institutes and advocacy work. Also in her honor, the PEN New England Children’s Book Caucus founded the Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, which acknowledges emerging writers and writer/illustrators in the field.
Susan’s accomplishments are myriad, but the words of her former students best convey her deep love of teaching and learning. Megan Lambert, a current lecturer in the children’s literature graduate program, notes that the poet Mary Oliver writes “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” “Susan,” Megan said, “was a model of attentiveness to her students…her irrepressible sense of delight in learning inspired us to pay attention to the books we read…it’s been two decades since I took a class with Susan Bloom, but I’ve never stopped learning from her.” And Susan Rich, a lauded editor for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, noted that “Susan taught me to look at literature deeply and with an open heart…her pride in my books has been a vital measure of my work.” The author Jo Knowles borrowed imagery from E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web, in saying that “Susan was Charlotte to all of us Wilburs, so unsure of what we were capable of…Show me how you are TERRIFIC, Susan said. We will carry her radiance in our hearts.”
Writers and illustrators throughout the field also fell under Susan’s spell. Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry noted that “It’s TOUGH (capitals hers) to find someone who didn’t appreciate Susan.” Author/illustrator David Macaulay, winner of the Caldecott Medal and many other accolades, said “the depth of her enthusiasm for teaching and learning was absolutely contagious…when she visited my studio with her classes, she always managed to wring the best out of me, determined to connect the finished books with their creator.” Author Jack Gantos, also a Newbery Award recipient, noted “Heart and soul, brains and lots of purple…Susan was singular.” And Jacqueline Woodson, an award-winning author named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, reacted to Susan’s loss with these words: “I adore that woman beyond and beyond and am SO (capitals hers) not ready for her to become an ancestor! She is the truth, that woman.”
Susan was a noticeable presence everywhere she went, with her closely-cropped curls, a propensity for wearing purple, and her iconic jangly, dangly earrings. Children’s books were Susan’s vocation and avocation, but her milieu was the world. “I always considered her an omnivore of life,” said Carolyn Shute, a former student, colleague, and friend. “She was curious and curiouser about everything and always open to new ideas. Susan ate the world.” She was an inveterate theater-goer, holding subscriptions to the ART, Huntington, Trinity, and the Gamm. She loved to support local theater, but traveled frequently to productions in New York City. Seeing Hamilton with its original cast was a recent highlight. Museums, dance, lectures, great literature, gardening, must-see TV, National Public Radio: she was interested in them all. Politics, too. She never shied away from respectfully voicing her strongly-held opinions, whether it was among friends, knocking on doors for national elections, or talking to someone in line at a grocery store. Her charm could sometimes even change minds.
A superb cook, Susan loved interesting and artful food, and took great pleasure in entertaining. Her celebrations were always executed in minute detail. She was known in her family for legendary and inspired Thanksgivings, always anchored by a theme connected with a particular American anniversary. They included the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address (for which she created Lincoln’s head in bread), the 100th anniversary of the FBI, Julia Child’s 90th birthday, and the centennial of the National Parks Service. Playful, pre-dinner activities like making stovepipe hats were de rigueur; place settings included printed menus that cleverly riffed on the theme.
Joy existed everywhere for Susan; so many things were worthy of celebration. She had a small collection of orchids and lilies and other semi-exotic things growing in pots. But her favorite was Selenicereus grandiflorus: “Queen of the Night.” Once a year this spindly night-blooming cereus would open its petals for a single summer night. Its large, creamy blooms saturated a room with their heady scent. When its buds were full and well-rounded, Susan put friends and neighbors on notice. “Come tonight,” she’d say, excitedly. The group attending the flowering varied, but what didn’t vary was the champagne and the poetry celebrating the one-night wonder.
Susan’s highly-developed sense of whimsy showed up in other arenas, too. When Anthony Browne, the British author/illustrator known for his stories featuring gorillas and chimps, crossed the pond to make a presentation at a Simmons symposium, Susan went to pick him up at the airport dressed as an ape in a rental costume. No one batted an eye. But Browne made a beeline for Susan. You must my ride, she recalled him saying with a twinkle in his eye.
After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013, Susan decided to take grandsons Jacob and Ben on a legacy trip. Accompanied by nephew Danny, they went on an African safari–the thrill of a lifetime, according to Susan. But in the following years, the foursome experienced more lifetime thrills, traveling to the Galapagos, Costa Rica, and Alaska. Last summer, they visited the Grand Canyon. All of the trips were full of wonderment, and especially wonderful because she was traveling with the grandsons she adored. As Jacob said of his grandmother, “Traveling with Gamin was the best. She was never about sitting down. She was always about exploring and seeing new things.”
Susan was preceded in death by her parents, her husband David Bloom and her sister Lois (Parker) Glick. She leaves behind those she considered her greatest blessings in life: her best-beloved daughter Johanna (Bloom) Morse, esteemed son-in-law Bobby Morse, and her three treasured grandchildren, Jacob, 13; Benjamin 11; and Lily, 6, to whom Susan was “Gamin,” not grandma. She also leaves behind her brother-in-law Irving Glick, niece Lisa Glick, and nephew Danny Glick. Susan’s circle of friends and extended family will dearly miss her intelligent, serene, and celebratory spirit.
Services at Levine Chapel, 470 Harvard Street, Brookline, on Tuesday, June 11, at 1:00 p.m. Burial in Sharon Memorial Park, 40 Dedham Street, Sharon 02067.
Memorial observance immediately following the burial until 7 p.m. at the Morse/Bloom home. The observance will also continue on Wednesday from 4-7 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Susan’s memory may be made to The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI 02886 or online at www.gammtheatre.org or the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, c/o The Bloom Fund at Simmons University, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115.
- The Gamm Theatre
Center for the Study of Childen's Literature
c/o The Bloom Fund at Simmons University, 300 The Fenway , Boston, Massachusetts 02115
- Funeral Service Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Susan Parker Bloom
July 15, 2019
I sent the following letter to The Globe, after reading the story of "Miss Parker's " passing.
Thank you for your beautiful and informative obituary and life summary of my favorite teacher and role-model.
As a 1965 graduate of Newton High School, I had the incredible good fortune to have "Miss Parker" as my English teacher in both 1962-63 and in 1963-64. I remember my surprise and joy when she became Mrs. Bloom.
I often wondered what became of the woman who introduced me to Sophocles, Shakespeare, Gallico and Edgar Lee Masters, as I moved on through Northeastern, earning my bachelor's in Education, English/History.
Though I didn't teach until later in my life, I had a professional career centered around writing and I have always felt my love of writing and the power of words was ignited by "Miss Parker",
In my teenage brain I'd refer to my favorite teacher as "Suzy Parker" because i found her as glamorous and sophisticated as the famous model and cover girl. I have a strong memory of her twinkle and her passion for literature and life.
I also rememberthat awful autumn day when, shaken, she told our class that the president had been shot.
I read her obituary in my digital edition of The Globe, tripping over it as I checked my email on a sleepless night here in Southwest FL. Could this Susan Bloom be MY Susan Parker Bloom? Was she a mere 8 years older than I when she was my teacher? Oh my God, it is! And look at all she accomplished-- look at the life she lived, the permanent mark she made on so many -- students and family alike.
Thank you for giving this remarkable woman, educator and role-model such a beautiful send- off, which rekindled so many spectacular and formative memories for me.
Clearly, her legacy lives on.
June 20, 2019
Dear Johanna, Bob and family,
My thoughts are with you during this difficult time...
Susan was always a joy to talk to, her love, strength and joie de vivre evident in every conversation....
May you draw strength and courage from your many happy memories...
Susan (Waldo) Bell
June 14, 2019
I was looking up Newberry award winning books when I saw Mrs. Blooms name on the committee members list and further searching brought me to the sad news that she had passed. I have many memories of almost magical birthday parties where Mrs. Bloom demonstrated her creativity in make your own dollhouse activities, shiny cloud purses, and black light dance parties. Even a simple lunch at a play date was a thing of beauty. So sorry for your loss Johanna, but I have enjoyed reading the many other ways your mom was amazing. You were loved by an amazing woman.
June 11, 2019
I have many fond childhood memories of birthday parties and play dates at the Bloom's home. Mrs. Bloom always had marvelous style, with her long denim skirts, cool jewelry and curly hair. I was fascinated by their greenhouse with an array of tropical plants, their beautiful art, and the wonderful collection of photos of Johanna throughout their home. I remember Mrs. Bloom teaching us to make French bread one time. So sorry for your loss Johanna. Sending love. Xo
June 11, 2019
Tonight I shall raise a glass to Susan...so warm, so funny, so smart...and I will give thanks for the privilege of being in her benevolent orbit at 300 The Fenway for just a little while...because the afterglow has lasted decades and will not cease with her departure....but rather grow... brighter still.
June 11, 2019
While we were not able to attend her funeral, we will always treasure our memory of Suzie. She was only two years older than me and the wife of my favorite Uncle David who passed on a few years ago.
Suzie was the most articulate person I have ever known and always chose her words slowly and carefully such that they had perfect meaning. She made original and artistc choices whether in carefully selected wedding plans, jewelry, home decor, or her delightful foods. For example in executing her daughter Johanna's wedding, she hired a local sculptor to create an enormous ships mast bust of Johanna as a surprise that resided with Johanna for many years.
She was an especially thoughtful host and caretaker who extended her welcome to us when my father died during the week of his funeral. She insisted on metculously preparing an unforgettably delicious dinner and breakfast on the following morning which was truly welcomed during our hours of grief. The following evening we had a sumptuous lobster dinner with David and Suzie at Legal Seafood in Framingham to honor my father.
And again at the time of my beloved younger sister Jackie's death a few years back, Suzie extended her warmth, love and friendship staying by Jackie's side in hospice, waiting for me and waiving me on by phone while my daughter Hilary and I made the over two hour drive from the Rhode Island airport to Jackie's location in Connecticut. When we arrived late, and tired, Suie was there to greet us with hugs, smiles, and kisses for which I will always be grateful for it somehow lessened the burden of Jackie's impending death.
Thankfully, I had two marvelous conversations with Suzie a week before her death. She was so clear headed, well spoken, and intelligent that her death actually took me by surprise. I thought she would live on for awhile longer, but she will always live on forever in my heart and mind and memory of her beautiful soul.
Phyllis and Bill Meiners
June 11, 2019
I remember Susan picking vegetables in the garden that bordered the woods where I played. Sappho was usually by her side. Each day I'd walk home from school through the woods that bordered her yard and if she was there we'd chat -and she would greet me (and everyone!) with her beautiful smile and lively eyes. I'm so sorry to hear of her passing. My condolences to Johanna and her family,