Biography

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In 2009, Governor Chet Culver appointed Mary Swander the Poet Laureate of the State of Iowa. Her most recent work is a book of poetry, The Girls on the Roof (Turning Point/Word Tech, 2009), a Mississippi River flood narrative. Swander has worked with the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre to create a performance piece of The Girls for the stage. Currently, Swander is also touring her play Farmscape, a docudrama capturing the changing rural environment, and Vang, a drama about recent immigrant farmers. She is the co-founder of Agarts, a national group designed to explore the intersection of the arts and agriculture.

Swander published Farmscape (Ice Cube Press) in 2012. The book contains the play and a collection of essays about the production and the food movement by such writers as Anna Lappe and Fred Kirschenmann. Swander’s memoir, The Desert Pilgrim (Viking, 2003, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.), has just been re-issued by Ice Cube Press as has the memoir, Out of this World (Viking, 1995), by the U. of Iowa Press. Swander is the author of three additional books of poetry, Heaven-and-Earth House (Alfred Knopf, 1994), Driving the Body Back (Alfred Knopf, 1986), andSuccession (University of Georgia Press, 1979), as well as a book of literary interviews, Parsnips in the Snow (with Jane Staw, University of Iowa Press, 1990).

Swander has edited three books: The Healing Circle: Authors on Recovery from Illness (Plume, 1998, with Patricia Foster); Bloom and Blossom, a collection of garden literature from Ecco Press (1997); andLand of the Fragile Giants, an edited collection of non-fiction and art work on the Loess Hills (with Cornelia Mutel, University of Iowa Press, 1994).

The University of Iowa Press reprinted Driving the Body Back in 1998. Ms. Swander adapted Driving the Body Back to the stage and this piece, along with her co-authored musical, Dear Iowa (with composer Christopher Frank), have been produced across the Midwest and on Iowa Public Television. Ms. Swander performs her own work and gives solo readings throughout the United States.

Ms. Swander has won numerous awards including an Iowa Author’s Award (2006), a Whiting Award (The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, 1994), a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the Literary Arts ( 1986), two Ingram Merrill Awards (1980, 1986) , the Carl Sandburg Literary Award (The Chicago Public Library, 1981), and the Nation-Discovery Award (The Nation magazine, 1976) . Publisher’s Weekly namedParsnips in the Snow one of the best books of 1990, and the Garden Writers Association of America awarded Swander their Quill and Trowel Award for best magazine writing of 1993.

Ms. Swander has published individual poems, essays, short stories and articles in such places as The NationNational Gardening MagazineThe New RepublicThe New YorkerThe New York Times Magazine, and Poetry magazine.

Ms. Swander received her M.F.A from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. She is a professor of English and a Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University. She lives in an old Amish schoolhouse, raises geese, goats, and a large organic garden, and plays the banjo.

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