2018 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
Born into a reading family, Suzanne enjoyed frequent visits to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library as a young child. In her youth, she wore a track into Lee Road walking back and forth from her home to the library. According to family lore, if you needed to find Suzanne, look behind the couch near the radiator, her favorite reading spot.
Today, she remains thankful to her parents for the gift of books. “That meant everything,” she recalls. “It put me on the road to reading and discovering new worlds.”
Her world of books grew even larger at Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights and later at Miami University. There, she spent hours in the library, immersing herself in old and new books, magazines and newspapers – the Internet of the times – that fueled the Political Science and Communications major’s intense discussions with friends about politics and world events.
After graduating, she came home and immediately landed a job working in the audio-visual department at the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine. After two years at OCPM, she decided to quit her job and take a year off to travel around the country to visit friends and see new places. She even worked in the Everglades National Park in Florida and Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.
During college, she had worked at a restaurant, where she met James McSherry, her current business partner. He had purchased a used bookstore in Chagrin Falls, moved it to Kent while he was a graduate student at Kent State University, then returned it to Chagrin Falls.
Suzanne returned to Cleveland at the same time Jim was looking to grow his book exchange business by opening a new location, and Suzanne suggested Coventry, where she had been a regular at Tommy’s Restaurant. They liked the neighborhood for it‘s diversity, walkability and community feel. They found a spot in two rooms above the former Dobama Theatre and opened Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry in 1982.
Mac’s moved closer to Mayfield for eight years, and then moved to the current location connected to Tommy’s in 1993.
When Suzanne travels, she likes to visit other bookstores. She has many friends in the business, especially since she’s served on the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association for two terms and is on the board of Literary Cleveland.
“Independent bookstores are always going to reflect their neighborhood, their community and the quirks of their owners and staff, so they’re all different from each other,” she says. “It’s a uniquely enjoyable browsing experience.”
Melissa O’Grady, her friend and Health Librarian at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, knows the experience at Mac’s is always special. “The entire writing and most of the reading community in Cleveland knows and loves Suzanne,” O’Grady says. “She remembers what people like to read and keeps her eye out for something else they might enjoy.”
Suzanne’s commitment to poets and writers is well-known. Mac's hosts readings, author events, book clubs, and writing groups, and provides a free community meeting space for groups and organizations. The monthly poetry reading, ongoing since 1984, is one of the region’s longest established series. Mac’s also keeps a busy offsite events schedule, selling books for library and community author events.
She has established herself as a patron among emerging seasoned poets, writers and artists. She knows many by name, and the consensus that is her generosity and commitment to Northeast Ohio's literary community knows no bounds. In addition to living the bibliophile’s dream of being surrounded by books every day, Suzanne deeply appreciates Cleveland’s strong and active literary community. “Part of our mission is to educate our readers and customers about resources and let them know about the fantastic writers in our own community."
“When Jim and I opened Mac’s Backs on Coventry I thought I’d stay for six months until I figured out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live” she says. “Then all these years later, I’m still here because I always felt most at home in this neighborhood and because I just love learning---and there is always something new to learn---from our customers, from our staff and from what’s inside all the books.”