Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Readers Write: Worth the Wait, Guest Post by Patrick Connors

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Anna Swanson

Open Book reader Patrick Connors spoke with Anna Swanson about her poetry collection, The Nights Also.

“I wish I was one of those people who felt compelled to write every day,” says poet and children’s librarian Anna Swanson. She remembers when poet Jacob Scheier presented her with the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, quoting Charles Bukowski, who, when asked why he wrote, answered with something along the lines of, “Why do you go to the bathroom?” “It’s not that easy for me to get to the place where writing comes,” continues Swanson, “But I also know that I feel most at home in the world when I’m able to write or be creative on a regular basis. I can survive without writing much longer than I can survive without going to the bathroom, but I feel less and less happy with my life if I’m not writing.”

Last year, Swanson released her debut collection of poetry, The Nights Also published by Tightrope Books. Since then, she’s taken home both a Lambda Literary Award and Lampert award for the book.

“Anna’s winning both the Lampert and the Lambda is a giant thrill for us since these are our first awards [at Tightrope] and its exciting that the awards have gone to one of our new female poets who is just on the threshold of her career,” says Halli Villegas, publisher of Tightrope Books.

Swanson is equally proud of her publishing company. “It’s been fabulous working with Tightrope Books,” she says. “They took a chance on me, which of course made me a big fan to begin with, but it’s been a pleasure going through the whole process as well.” She also feels a tremendous debt of gratitude to her editor, Shirarose Willensky, who was supportive and helpful throughout the process, in addition to being patient while Swanson recovered from a head injury from a canoe accident. “It was wonderful to work with someone who brought exactly the right combination of patience and push to the process,” Swanson goes on about Willensky.

Willensky returns the fondess. “It was a pleasure to work with Anna as her editor,” she says. “She is a sensitive and conscientious poet. I knew when I first read the poems in her collection that Tightrope had something special on its hands.”

Swanson’s sensitivity is evident in her poem “The Moment,” which captivates the contemporary reader in their workaday world but also serves as a remembrance of simpler times. “When I wrote this poem, it was from a place of finally feeling at home in my body after many years of illness,” she says about working on the poem. “I think that sense of connectedness can mean very different things to different people, but I think it’s something many of us remember from another time in our lives and long to experience again.”

However, writing about her illness was no easy task. “It was actually quite a rough experience to write about—if I focused on it too long and with too much intensity, I started to feel like I might slide back into that reality. So I’d dip in for a while and then have to pull back,” she describes.

It’s for reasons like Swanson’s determination that she won the Lambda award, given out annual by a foundation which aims to recognize works which celebrate or explore LGBT themes. “It’s such an honour to be included in a list of writers that includes so many people I have admired for such a long time, and whose writing moved me and helped me figure out who I was and wanted to be,” says Swanson. “When I was coming out in my early twenties, so many of the formative books I read were Lambda winners. I remember staying up all night to read Stone Butch Blues, and that book really did change my life.”

As for what’s next for Swanson? “Hopefully more writing. I’d also like to take some time to do a belated book tour,” she says. She also hopes to “recreate that sense of spaciousness” that she had while working on The Nights Also. “I waited about 10 years for this book,” she says. The reason she’d do it again? “I don’t publish poetry to become rich, but to make the kind of world I want to live in.”

Do you have a story to tell about your reading or writing? Send it to clelia@openbooktoronto.com.

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