Moving through our list of great speakers for the All Write Now! conference, here is the interview with Dr. Susan Swartwout from Southeast Missouri State University.
You keep busy as a professor, editor, publisher, and poet. What is a typical work-day schedule for you?
There’s no such thing as typical day, since I’m divided between teaching classes and grading papers, running a publishing business and reading all the book and journal submissions, plus all the other university duties, such as working with interns and critiquing their work, attending committee meetings, directing theses, advising students—among other tasks. I don’t think I’d be happy with a typical workday. Routine is very boring.
How many books did the University Press publish in 2014, and what genres were they?
Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Jeffrey Bean (poetry)
Finding Julia: The Early Development of Southeast Missouri by Kaye Hamblin (history)
Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors (anthology)
Failing the Trapeze by Susan V. Meyers (Nilsen Prize for First Novel)
And Justice for All: A History of the Federal District Court of Eastern Missouri by Burton Boxerman (history)
The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley by Bryce Suderow and Scott House (history)
I Have Done the Work: The Life and Times of James Hutchison Kerr by Joe P. Dunn (history)
Annamanda by Jo Houser Haring (novel)
The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters by Gerardo Mena (poetry)
Do you get enough submissions, or do you publish a call for submissions periodically?
We publish a call for our five contests every year (two book contests, the military literature anthology contests, and two short fiction contests). We had to stop taking unsolicited manuscripts because we were inundated and had no time to read them all.
Has there been a book the University Press has published that you felt was a special project?
The Federal District Courts book was an important endeavor and our largest project: working with the author, various judges, representatives from the three federal courthouses, the Eagleton building’s librarian, the legal committee including Senior Judge Richard Webber and our own Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. Judge Webber arranged for a fabulous book launch on the top floor of the Thomas Eagleton courthouse. I was asked to speak—right after Chief Judge Catherine Perry. No pressure there! I hide behind books for many good reasons; I’m not a statesperson at all. But it was an honor to have all those illustrious folks put up with me.
I understand you have a book of poetry coming out soon. Congratulations! Tell us about this book.
As a Southerner by birth, Susan's history and writing are steeped in the gothic elements of quotidian life in the Deep South. Southern gothic may appear to be horrific to some, yet it's a real celebration of the grotesque, abnormal, and uncommon—the odd beauties that embellish our plain lives. These poems explore the secrets of freaks—the celebrities of Southern fairs' sideshows—such as Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker's married lives, the Fat Lady's work schedule, Tom Thumb the midget's warped ego, all in parallel to the hidden desires, plots, and jealousies of the rest of us, the more common beauties. Our exterior normality belies the internal twisted landscapes—how complicity and silence echo abuse, how depression wreaks havoc on entire families, how a five-year-old learns to use words as weapons, how human need dispels language's boundaries. From circus oddities to real-life boogeymen, from Louisiana to a Central American village, earth has no dearth of the gothic's strange fruit, illuminating the complexity of what it is to be human.
What is it like for you to be on the author’s end of publication?
I’ve edited many anthologies, published a textbook, and published two chapbooks, but nothing is quite like having your own favorite-genre, full-length book published. It’s a little daunting to do the readings, but I know the drill, I know the publisher is taking a fiscal chance on me, and I’ll be the best author I can be.
What was the time frame involved for you in writing the poems for this book?
I remember one of my past professors telling our class how she worked on a poem for 8 years. I thought she was out of her mind or a fantastic procrastinator. One poem? Many of mine go back that far, although not all have been revised heavily in recent days. I started the Freaks poems with just the so-called Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, back in 1992, when I was at the Ragdale Foundation artists’ colony near Chicago. I needed that gift of time just to dive in, uninterrupted for a couple of weeks, and try to imagine the ordinary lives of extraordinary people. I’ve been writing about fabulous freaks as ordinary citizens since then. I’ve recently begun another series, but it’s not formulated enough to talk about quite yet.
Who are your favorite poets?
Among many many others, I love (first and foremost) Emily Dickinson, Nick Flynn, Stephen Dunn, Natasha Tretheway, Bill Trowbridge, James Crews, Ann Carson, Jorie Graham, Kevin Stein, Norman Dubie, Cornelius Eady, yeah, I could go on!
What do you enjoy doing when you are on school breaks?
What breaks? The University Press never stops, but it does slow down a little, allowing us to catch up. I like gardening, walking our dogs more often (of which they approve), reading-reading-reading, writing, trying new vegan recipes, and marathon Netflix-series-watching at night.
Reading all that Susan does makes me think she doesn’t really “hide behind books” at all. I’m sure her words for us on July 11 will be excellent! Thanks so much for the interview, Susan!