Susan Swan was born in 1945 in Midland, Ontario, a small town for tourists close to the Great Lakes in Canada. Her later work was strongly influenced by the years she spent at a girl’s boarding school, where she grew up experiencing the tension between the conservative 50s and the protest movements of the ensuing decade. After studying English Literature at McGill University in Montreal, she first worked for a daily newspaper in Toronto. In 1973, after the birth of her daughter, she began to write literature. Susan Swan is also known internationally as a poet and dramatist. Since 1983 she has taught Creative Writing at Canadian colleges and is currently a professor at York University in Toronto.
Her novels have been published in 16 countries. In an entertaining and provocative way, she primarily explores the question of gender roles. Creating “strong female characters with mythical power,” who “show new ways to be a woman” is how she herself describes her literary concerns. Her first novel ‘The Biggest Modern Woman of the World’, now a classic in Canada, is indeed about an unusual woman. It tells the life story of the giant Anna Swan (1846–1888), who is put on exhibition in New York as the “largest woman in the world” and becomes internationally famous. But when she later wants to lead a “normal” life in the Midwest, she realizes that she is not satisfied with the conventions of the time. Swan describes the giant woman as a mythical figure, who is more than just literally “too big” for the confines of a woman’s role in a male-dominated world.
The passions and the rebellion of two very different female friends, who find the idea of life as a boy more appealing, forms the background to ‘The Wives of Bath’. Through the perspective of the main figure, Mary, who with black humor and self-irony examines the tragic events that took place while she was at boarding school, a plastic image of how young girls grew up in Canada in the 60s emerges. In this book Swan is also interested in strange figures who open the way to a different, deeper reality. The feature film based on Swan’s novel ‘Lost and Delirious’ (2001) – which was also shown in German cinemas under this title – was well received at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and at the Berlinale Film Festival in 2001.
Her latest novel “What Casanova Told Me” (2004) was the first one to be presented in a “BookShort” – a novel film genre, which briefly strives to visualize a novels’ plot and mood. “What Casanova Told Me” is based parallely in Casanova’s time and today, in Greece as well as in Italy. The characters of the past and the protagonists of today – among them an invented descendant of Casanova – take upon an odyssey in the search for renewal, fulfillment and the meaning of life.
© international literature festival berlin