HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Pamela Schoenewaldt

Author of When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon


  • When We Were Strangers
  • Swimming in the Moon



Historical novelist Pamela Schoenewaldt tells stories that transport her readers to turn of the century America and explore the lives of characters who overcome the hardships of immigration to achieve a better life for themselves and their families. Her debut novel, When We Were Strangers (Harper), was a Barnes & Noble Great Discovery Selection, a USA Today bestseller, short listed for the Langham Prize in American Historical Fiction, received national book club praise, and was translated into three languages. Schoenewaldt is an excellent, engaging speaker for universities, libraries, book clubs, and historical organizations.

In Swimming in the Moon (William Morrow), fourteen-year-old Lucia and her mother, Teresa, are servants in a grand Italian villa in the year 1905. Forced to flee when Teresa’s volatile temper erupts, both must make a new home in America. Lucia struggles for an education while throwing herself into the fight for worker justice and opportunity in early 20th century Cleveland. When her mother’s worsening mental illness robs her of brief happiness in the heady vaudeville world, like many people today, Lucia must balance her own needs with care for a beloved, damaged family member. In When We Were Strangers, Schoenewaldt similarly focuses on the challenges faced by immigrants arriving in America with her tale of Irma Vitale, a teenage girl from Italy who, possessing only a small dowry and her sewing skills, travels to America after the death of her mother to stitch herself a new life.

Schoenewaldt’s own writing journey began in New Jersey where she was inspired by her fourth grade teacher, a former combat paratrooper who relished the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel enterprise of terrorizing kids. But when he regularly picked Schoenewaldt’s creative writing exercise to read aloud in class, her fate was sealed. A writing life soon evolved and Schoenewaldt now holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Hiram College and a master’s degree in Renaissance drama from the University of Pennsylvania.

Schoenewaldt is the recipient of several distinguished awards, including The Barnes & Noble Great New Writers Discovery Series, the Chekhov Prize for Short Fiction, The Leslie Garrett Award, and the Cascando Prize for Travel Writing, and her work has been published in literary magazines in Italy, France, England, and the United States. Schoenewaldt was a writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee Library where she wrote her first novel. She has taught fiction and professional writing at the University of Maryland and the University of Tennessee, became active in the Tennessee Writers Alliance, and worked for an advertising agency. During her 10 years in a small town outside of Naples, Italy, Schoenewaldt had her own immigration experience before moving in 2000 to Knoxville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and their dog, Jesse.

Praise for Pamela Schoenewaldt:

“Pamela Schoenewaldt came to our campus as part of our arts committee series to present her historical novel, When We Were Strangers. She captivated and entertained an audience of students, faculty and community members with her readings, descriptions of her writing process and the historical background of her book. In a lively, friendly Q&A which followed, she fielded a wide range of questions. We are delighted that she is returning to present her second novel, Swimming in the Moon, and we're sure to have a large repeat audience. “

-- Stella Gomezdelcampo, Roane State Community College

“Pamela Schoenewaldt presented her writing in an engaging manner. She led a thought-provoking discussion and was very receptive to audience members' questions.”

-- Pamela Dorazio Dean, Associate Curator of Italian American History at Western Reserve Historical Society

Praise for Swimming in the Moon:

Swimming in the Moon is a beautifully told coming-of-age story about a resourceful immigrant girl in the 1900s whose passionate, troubled mother constantly threatens what little stability they achieve. From the sun-baked cobblestones of Naples to a crowded boardinghouse in Cleveland to a grand vaudeville hall in Chicago, Pamela Schoenewaldt brings to vivid life a compelling, richly detailed world.”

-- Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

“Lush with historical detail, Swimming in the Moon celebrates the power of the mother-daughter relationship. Pamela Schoenewaldt delivers another novel full of richly realized characters, who transport us to the immigrant neighborhoods of early twentieth century America.”

-- Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye

 “A beautifully drawn novel about what is the deepest and most important love story of our lives—that of a mother and daughter. Swimming in the Moon brings history alive with such passion and attention to detail—I was carried along by the characters and did not want the story to end. A book to savor by an accomplished female voice.”

-- Kate Kerrigan, New York Times bestselling author of Ellis Island

 “It’s 1910 and Cleveland is a rough grimy place if you’re poor and an immigrant. Lucia, a heroine you won’t forget, is on the run and right off the boat from Italy. Not only that, she’s alone and caring for her mother, a half crazy singer and the kind of Diva that would be in People magazine if it were today. There’s a love story, of course, and a cast of wonderful characters from all over the world, but what’s at the heart of this beautiful book, is not the romance between Lucia and Henryk, the young Jewish grocer, or even Lucia’s passion for social justice and her work for the unions, it’s the relationship between mother and daughter. As the mother descends into madness, Lucia must choose to protect her and try to bring her back or to forge her way into the future. It makes you wonder, what would you do?”

-- Patricia Harman, author of The Midwife of Hope River

“In the great tradition of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, Amy Bloom’s Away, and E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, Pamela Schoenewaldt’s Swimming in the Moon is a beautifully rendered and poignant family drama that teems with the life of the early 20th Century America… Their story is a testament to both the human quest for justice and on a more intimate level, the enduring power of love. Schoenewaldt has given us a whole universe between the covers of this book.”

-- Dana Sachs, author of The House on Dream Street and If You Lived Here

Praise for When We Were Strangers:

 “Lucid, unembellished prose that draws your attention to what’s important…When We Were Strangers transports you convincingly into Irma Vitale’s life as she journeys toward self-discovery, toward a place to belong, toward love.”                                                          

  -- Michael Knight, author of The Typist

“I was caught up in this compelling tale from page one. In vivid and inventive prose Pamela Schoenewaldt spins out the story of immigrant Irma Vitale’s odyssey from her tiny Italian village to the jostling crowds of urban America in the 1880s–a heroine of courage and grit in a time of tumultuous change and opportunity. I was eager to follow every twist and turn. As a reader and frequent reviewer I long for this kind of lovely prose. A cut above.”     

-- Carolly Erickson, author of The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette

“Readable and engaging…The language is deceptively simple, the people as real as your own family, and the tale realistic enough to be any American’s …This is a story that is not finished simply because the reader has reached the last page–a memorable novel.” 

-- Nancy E. Turner, author of These is My Words

“When We Were Strangers, a first novel by Knoxville writer Pamela Schoenewaldt, relates the poignant story of a young Italian needleworker who leaves her isolated mountain home to make a new life in late-19th-century America, and in the telling, the author weaves a rich, multicolored tapestry."           

-- Knoxville News Sentinel

“Schoenewaldt’s heartbreaking debut is the late 19th century immigrant coming-of-age story of poor, plain Irma Vitale…Irma’s adventures and redeeming evolution make this a serious book club contender.”

-- Publishers Weekly