About Susan

Journalist, feminist, novelist, activist, teacher, Susan Swan’s impact on the Canadian literary and political scene has been far-reaching. Susan Swan’s critically acclaimed fiction has been published in twenty countries. Her newest novel, The Western Light, was picked as one of the top ten fiction and non-fiction 2012 books by the Ontario Library Association. It shares a heroine with her international bestseller, The Wives of Bath (published by Cormorant Books, September 2012).Swan’s last novel, What Casanova Told Me, was published by Knopf in Canada (hardcover September 2004 and paperback 2005) and in the US by Bloomsbury (hardcover 2005 and paperback 2006). It has also been published in Spain, Russia, Serbia and Portugal.Swan’s sixth book of fiction, What Casanova Told Me, links two women from different centuries through a long-lost journal about travels with Casanova in Italy, Greece and Turkey. It celebrates travel as a form of love. What Casanova Told Me was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Canada and Caribbean Region). It was a Globe and Mail Best Book; a Calgary Herald Top 10; a Now (Toronto) Top 10; and a Sun Times (Owen Sound) Top 10; and Asked For Adams was named one of Maclean’s Top 5 literary characters for 2004. Swan shares a Puritan background with her heroine Asked For Adams. A branch of Swan’s family immigrated to America in 1635 and settled near Boston before moving to Canada two centuries later.

The Wives of Bath, (about a murder in a girls’ boarding school) was a 1993 finalist for the U.K.’s Guardian Award and Ontario’s Trillium Award. It was picked by a U.S. Readers’ Guide as one of the best novels of the nineties. A feature film based on The Wives of Bath was released in the summer of 2001 in the U.S. and Canada under the title Lost and Delirious. The film starred Mischa Barton, Piper Parabo and Jessica Pare and was shown in 34 countries. It was also picked for premiere selection at Sundance and Berlin Film Festival 2001.

Swan’s other novels include The Biggest Modern Woman in the World, based on a true-life ancestor, a giantess who exhibited with P.T. Barnum, which was a finalist for Canada’s Best First Novel Award and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. The Last of the Golden Girls, about the sexual awakening of young women in an Ontario cottage country, was originally published in 1989, and has been reissued in hardcover. Her collection of short stories, Stupid Boys are Good to Relax With was published in 1996. Two of its stories were published in Granta and in Ms. Magazine.

Swan has retired from her position of Associate Professor of Humanities at York University and currently mentors creative writing students at the University of Toronto and Humber College’s School of Creative Writing. In 1999-2000, she was awarded York’s Millennial Robarts Chair in Canadian Studies. As chair, she hosted the successful Millennial Wisdom Symposium in Toronto featuring artists and social scientists debating the ways the past is recreated in popular culture and what wisdom the past has to offer us in the new century. Swan was chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada (2007-2008) and brought in a new benefits deal for Canadian writers and self-employed Canadians in the arts.

A native of southwestern Ontario and graduate of McGill University, Susan Swan makes her home and garden in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.


The following quotes are statements on a wide range of topics recently addressed by Susan, and indicate the breadth of her expertise and concerns.

On Travel:
Travel is a form of love. If you follow Casanova’s Ten
Principles of Travel, you will move in the world in a way that
emphasizes the romance of cultures instead of the clash.
On Canadian Literature:
In Canada, the literary imagination is the writer’s conscience in action.
On Fiction on the Internet:
As a form, hypertext fiction is closer to performance or installation art, which blends several disciplines like images, sound and text, than literature. But like it or lump it, the frontier of the net is still creating a whole new way to tell a story.
On Sexual Gothic:
It’s fiction that uses the body as a central metaphor for pleasure and trauma. In nineteenth century gothic stories, it was castles and ruins not our physical selves that provide the symbol of uneasiness for the reader.
On politically incorrect art:
All art and literature asks for some adjustment on the part of the viewer or reader to make it understandable in terms of their own sensibility and morals. But instead of recommending censorship in the case of sexist or racist art where the burden of adjustment may be grave, I suggest asking the question “what are we going to get in return?

Highlights From a Literary Life

1977 — performed ‘The True Confessions of the Sexual Organs’ nude at a University of Toronto Women’s Festival

1988 — obscenity charges laid by two Albertan listeners who objected to a section of The Last of the Golden Girls being read on the CBC. The charges were later dismissed by the Edmonton Morality Squad.

1989 — Swan asks Globe and Mail critic Bill French to resign on national television after he criticized her apocalptyic ending in The Last of the Golden Girls as ‘unrealistic’. Six months later he resigned.

1993 — Sold out Sexual Gothic tour in New York, Chicago and Toronto, featuring actors reading writers’ work.

1994 — Canadian External Affairs tries to deny funds for Swan’s invite to the University of Venice.

1996 — Canadian External Affairs denies funds for Swan’s invite to the Adelaide Literary Festival. Funds raised by other means.

Selected list of Honours, Awards and Grants

Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, 2007–2008
Robarts Millennial Scholar, York University, 1999-2001
Canada Council Award for Fiction, l998.
Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, Travel Grant, York University, 1996.
Toronto Arts Council Award for Fiction, 1996.
Canada Council Short-term Grant, Ottawa, 1995.
Ontario Arts Council Award for Works-in-Progress, 1995.
Guardian Fiction Prize Finalist, U.K., (International Award), 1993.
Trillium Finalist, Ontario, 1993.
Toronto Arts Council Award for Fiction, 1993.
Ontario Arts Council Award for Works-in-Progress, 1991.
Canada Council Award for Fiction, Ottawa, 1989.
Canada Council Award for Fiction, Ottawa, 1988.
Ontario Arts Council Award for Works-in-Progress, 1988.
Oberon, Best Canadian Stories (for Sluts), Ottawa, 1988.
Toronto Arts Council Award for Fiction, 1986.
Playwright-in-Residence, NECESSARY ANGEL, Toronto, 1985.
Canada Council Award for Fiction, Ottawa, 1984.
Finalist, Governor-General’s Award for Fiction, Ottawa, 1983.
Finalist, Governor-General’s Award for Best First Novel Contest, Ottawa, 1983

A complete list of Susan Swan’s Honours and Awards is detailed in her Curriculum Vitae.

Curriculum Vitae

Swan’s Curriculum Vitae is the most comprehensive source of information about Susan Swan, and numbers approximately 44 pages. Excerpts of this information are also included in relevant areas of the website. The detailed bibliography covers these major topics:

• Novels and Story Collections by Susan Swan
• Fiction and Non-Fiction by Susan Swan in Collections and Anthologies
• Fiction and Poetry by Susan Swan in Magazines

Non-fiction Publications
• Samples of Book Reviews written by Susan Swan
• Material Written for Television and Film by Susan Swan
• Samples of Essays and Features Written by Susan Swan

Films Based on Susan Swan’s Novels

Performance Work by Susan Swan

Selected Readings and Cultural Exchanges

Talks by Susan Swan

Honours, Awards and Grants

Scholarly Commentary on Books by Susan Swan
• Commentary in Books, Magazines and Popular Journals about Books by Susan Swan
• Reviews of All Novels
• Reviews of Theatre, Film and Performance Art by Susan Swan
• Reviews of Anthologies with Fiction by Susan Swan
• Profiles on Susan Swan


Service to the Literary and Academic Profession
• Contributions to the Editing of Literary Work and Scholarly Journals
• Membership in Professional Organizations
• Pedagogical Innovations
• University Service

Community Service

Early Professional Positions

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