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Meet the WritersImage of Mary Swander
Mary Swander
Good to Know
In our interview, Swander shared some fun facts with us:

"I live in an old one-room Amish schoolhouse."

"I have a dog who can answer the phone."

"I am a licensed massage therapist and a licensed hypnotherapist."

"I play the clawhammer banjo."

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In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Mary Swander had to say:

Here are my picks:

  • Patricia Hampl's Virgin Time -- A beautiful exploration of spirituality.

  • Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales -- The classic pilgrimage full of fun, depth and eccentric characters.

  • Charles Dickens' Great Expectations -- A tale of suspense and mystery.

  • Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider -- A short story collection that every young woman should read.

  • Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Cafe -- A short story collection from the humor of the grotesque tradition of the American south.

  • E. B. White's Collected Essays -- Essays to allow you to more fully understand nature and human relationships.

  • Gene Logsdon's The Pond Lover -- A book to read on a lazy summer day watching the ducks float around in the farm pond.

  • Robert Frost's The Collected Poems of Robert Frost -- Poems of reflection from nature.

  • Sherman Alexie's The Toughest Indian in the World -- An adventure in voice, humor and human encounters.

  • Jamaca Kincaid, At the Bottom of the River -- The problems of postcolonial culture delivered in stunning prose.


    In the fall of 2003, Mary Swander took some time out to answer our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.

    What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
    Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. My mother read this book out loud to me when I was child. I loved the characters, the dialogue, and the fact that the setting was familiar to me -- the Mississippi River. I realized at a young age that the writer was a midwesterner and that you could write out of your own sense of place.

    What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- See above.

  • The Bible -- For the richness of the forms and stories it tells.

  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare -- Especially the tragedies and sonnets.

  • Homer's The Odyssey -- For the sense of a journey narrative.

  • Sophocles‘ Oedipus Rex -- For the mythology.

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens -- For the intricacy of plot; the story of a scrappy orphan.

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë -- The suspense and portraiture.

  • Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor -- For the use of style and language and regional characters.

  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather -- For the depiction of New Mexico.

  • The Collected Short Stories of Eudora Welty -- For the humor.

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
    Long Day's Journey into Night -- great acting, great script.

    What types of music do you like?
    Old time, classical Baroque.

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
    Books by and about women and minorities, because they've been overlooked for so many years.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    Books exploring different cultures.

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    My computer.

    What are you working on now?
    A new book of poems called The Girls on the Roof.

    Many writers in the Discover program are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    During my first writing workshop I had the honors receiving the most votes for the "worst" poem on the worksheet. By the end of the semester I was publishing in small literary magazines.

    If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
    Lisa Chavez. She is a master of the dramatic monologue and writes with real clarity about her experiences growing up in Alaska.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    Ignore rejection slips and just keep on writing at your best and sending out material.

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  • About the Writer
    *Mary Swander Home
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    In Our Other Stores
    * Signed, First Editions by Mary Swander
    *Succession, 1979
    *Driving the Body Back, 1986
    *Parsnips in the Snow: Talks with Midwestern Gardeners, 1990
    *Land of the Fragile Giants: Landscapes, Environments, and Peoples of the Loess Hills, 1994
    *Out of This World: A Journey of Healing, 1995
    *Healing Circle: Authors Writing of Recovery, 1996
    *Bloom and Blossom: The Reader's Guide to Gardening, 1997
    *Heaven and Earth House, 1998
    *Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles, 2003