Susan Swan

Susan Swan was born in 1945 in Midland, Ontario, and cannot remember a time when she didn’t want to become a writer. As a child she was an avid reader, using books as a way to escape her small-town world. After graduating from McGill with a degree in English literature, Swan worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines, but she soon found that work too limiting. As she explained in one interview, “I was quite successful in my career as a journalist, but the constant demand of deadlines and the unpredictable nature of the work didn’t allow me enough time to write fiction.”

Since then, Swan’s fiction has been published in twenty countries and received numerous honours. Her first novel, The Biggest Modern Woman in the World (1983), tells the story of a Nova Scotian giantess who travels to New York and becomes famous as an attraction in P.T. Barnum’s show. The novel was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for fiction and the Smith’s Best First Novel Award, and is currently being made into a film. Her other books include the short story collection Stupid Boys Are Good to Relax With (1996), the novel Last of the Golden Girls (1989), and The Wives of Bath (1993), a novel about a murder in a girls’ boarding school. The film adaptation of The Wives of Bath, called Lost and Delirious, has been released in thirty-two countries and was featured as a Premiere Selection at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Much of Swan’s work has been influenced by her experiences as a young woman, witnessing the conservative social mores of the 1950s and the resulting gender clashes of the 1960s. For Swan, exploring our sexual psyches and “the lives of unconventional women whose dilemmas embody some of the central issues of our times” has been the major focus of her writing. What Casanova Told Me continues in this line, but also marks a departure from Swan’s usual style. “My new novel is a big shift for me,” Swan has commented. “At least four of my last five books are satirical feminist critiques, but What Casanova Told Me is a celebration of life, creativity and the human spirit and the way we express it through passion, friendship and love.” One of the main reasons for this shift was Swan’s reading of Casanova’s memoirs, which showed her a man who was so much more than the one-dimensional womanizer of popular legend. Another inspiration came from Swan’s own family history: a great-uncle of hers disappeared one night, and no one in the family has ever discovered whether he met with misfortune or just decided to start a new life. This personal story gave rise to Asked For Adams and the mystery at the heart of this novel.

Seven years and thirty drafts later, What Casanova Told Me was published to rave reviews, with more than one reviewer calling it Swan’s best work to date. But the author’s aspirations for the novel go much further, and “have a generous political subtext” that extends beyond the written page: “I hope my writing brings many readers pleasure and that What Casanova Told Me encourages people to travel and celebrate the romance of cultures instead of the clash. As Casanova says, Go now and at once. Another world is possible!”

Susan Swan lives in Toronto and is an associate professor of Humanities at York University. She is also very active in civic and arts-related causes, and travels widely to literary conferences and festivals. Most recently, she has given talks in Halifax and St. John’s, New York, and at the Literatures of the Commonwealth Conference in the U.K. She has also been a speaker and reader at the Adelaide Literary Festival, the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Stratford’s Celebrated Writers Series, the University of Milan and the University of Athens.