Dordt College News

Swander to read at Dordt College

September 29, 2003

Mary Swander, well-known Iowa writer and Professor of English at Iowa State University, will read from her latest work, Desert Pilgrim (Viking) at Dordt College, room S-101, on Tuesday night, September 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Desert Pilgrim chronicles Mary Swander's pilgrimage to New Mexico in search of authentic faith healers. Injured in an automobile accident, Swander was urged by her doctors to journey to the desert to recover in a warm, dry climate. Her doctors said they had nothing more they could do for her condition, a spinal cord injury which left her on a cane and in constant pain. In a blinding snow storm, Swander packed up her traction rig and headed out to the Great Southwest where her search led her through the dusty streets of Albuquerque and into the dark crevices of her own spiritual questions and doubts. Mary Swander

What is faith? Swander, a self-described "recovering Catholic," asked herself. Two remarkable healers, Father Sergei, a Russian orthodox monk and "hidden" Jew, and Lu, a curandera and herbalist, helped her probe this question. They facilitated her journey through the "dark night of the soul" and into a better understanding of the works of St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and other mystics. Under Father Sergei and Lu's guidance and in light of their example, Swander gained a wider view of the inter-connectiveness of both world and personal history. She ended her trip with a more positive, more embracing consciousness--on a note of trans-religiosity. And, she got off the cane.

Mary Swander’s earlier work includes the memoir Out of this World, three books of poetry, Heaven-and-Earth House, Driving the Body Back, Succession. In addition, she has edited a number of books, including Land of the Fragile Giants, an edited collection of non-fiction and art work on the Loess Hills.

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 also gives solo readings throughout the United States, and is a regular commentator on WOI radio in Ames, IA as well as National Public Radio's Sunday Weekend Edition.

She has won numerous awards including a Whiting Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the Literary Arts, two Ingram Merrill Awards, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, and the Nation-Discovery Award. Ms. Swander has published individual poems, essays, short stories and articles in such places as The Nation, National Gardening Magazine, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Poetry magazine.

Ms. Swander received her M.F.A from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. She also became a certified and licensed practitioner of therapeutic massage.

Her hobbies include photography and playing the banjo. She lives in Ames and Kalona, IA, where she raises ducks and geese and a large organic vegetable garden.

Admission to the reading is free. The public is cordially invited.

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