Quill and Quire


« Back to

Susan Swan’s way

In the September 2012 issue of Q&Q, Stacey May Fowles interviews author Susan Swan, one of CanLit’s most devoted activists and mentors, about her latest novel, The Western Light.

(Photo: Darrin Klimek)

In an uncharacteristic bout of poor planning, I frantically arrange to meet Susan Swan in the few days before I travel to the Banff Centre. I’ll be gone for a month-long writing retreat, and am consumed by the anxiety of last-minute errands and deadlines.

After exchanging a few emails, Swan calls me. Her tone is one of accommodating concern: I am to come to her home and drink gin and tonics at 4 p.m. the day before I leave.

When I arrive at her pretty pale-blue house “ complete with welcoming white picket fence “ in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, the gin is generously poured, as promised. Watching her in her kitchen, I confirm the legend of Swan’s height “ what she describes as being a big woman “ well over six feet with room-filling charm to match. I linger in the front hallway while she arranges a cheese plate, and her grey cat, Cosmo, rubs against my ankles and meows aggressively. Perhaps because of my exhaustion, I get the distinct impression I am being taken care of, a compulsion on Swan’s part that seems more than mere hospitality. As if she has temporarily taken responsibility for my well-being.

That, of course, is Swan’s reputation. An informal poll of industry colleagues reveals that she is, to quote one former publicist, quite beloved. Swan has long taken an active role in the well-being of many writers, and is part of an established literary family. Her long-time partner is Patrick Crean, the former publisher at Thomas Allen Publishers, and her daughter is the Transatlantic Literary Agency’s Samantha Haywood.

I think of my mother as many things besides ˜Mom’: writer first, but also activist, feminist, journalist, and professor, who has mentored and championed lots of writers over the years, says Haywood. Her generosity and strength are great inspirations to me, and I’d like to think that many of my interests and skills as a literary agent found their example in her.

Swan’s role as mentor and teacher, both professionally (she retired from teaching creative writing at York University in 2007) and casually, comes quite naturally to her. Fame and glory “ I guess you’re supposed to want that, Swan says. I’d like lots of readers, but the idea of coming in and feeling like I am famous, and you are lesser than me, I find that very boring. And empty.

Read the rest of the story.