Here she is, Miss America. Okay, well not quite. More like, here she is, Miss Poet Laureate of Iowa: Iowa State's own, Mary Swander.
Swander, distinguished professor of English, was appointed as Iowa's Poet Laureate in 2009 by Gov. Chet Culver.
As Poet Laureate, Swander serves as the state's symbolic leader of poetry. She travels across the state delivering readings, talks and workshops. Officially, her title allows her to deliver poems at official Iowa events at the invitation of Culver.
While not attending events as Iowa's Poet Laureate, she manages to find time to get her poetry published, whether that be in books or individually.
Swander has a collection of 10 self-authored books under her professional belt, the most recent being, "The Girls on the Tin Roof," published in April of 2009.
Iowa State Daily [ISD]: Where did you grow up? Are you originally from Iowa?
Mary Swander [MS]: I was born in Iowa, I grew up in Manning, which is a small town in western Iowa, and I also lived in Davenport, which is in eastern Iowa.
ISD: So, what was your childhood like?
MS: I lived in town with my grandmother who owned two farms. She owned the original homesteading farms of her family who came from Iowa and did homesteading in Iowa. [It was] through a lot of sweat and toil that she was able to hold onto them through the Depression.
I had the best of both worlds because we went out to the farm all the time. I didn't have to do the heavy, hard labor of the farm, just got to enjoy it. [The farm] instilled in me a love of the natural world and appreciation for agriculture.
ISD: Very cool. Did you attend school in Manning, then?
MS: Yes, I attended school in Manning and then in Davenport. I then went to an all-girl school in Rock Island, Ill., which had a big influence on me. However, I graduated from Davenport Central High School and went to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and I attended the Iowa Writers Workshop. I majored in English and got my Master of Fine Arts from the workshop. When you go to the workshop, you get a M.F.A., a terminal degree, the last degree a writer gets.
ISD: Did you have time to get involved in any extra curriculars?
MS: At Georgetown we had a poetry group. It was really fun. It was a Friday afternoon gathering where we'd sit around and read poetry to one another. There was probably about 20 students and faculty that did that every Friday afternoon.
ISD: How did you start liking poetry?
MS: I had a great teacher at Georgetown, Roland Flint. He ended up being the Poet Laureate of Maryland later in his life. I had a poetry reading course with him first, he had a love of poetry [and] was a wonderful reader of poetry. He could recite hundreds of poems by heart. He was inspirational.
ISD: What types of things do you like to write about?
MS: I've written about a range of things. I've written about folklore, landscape and natural history. I have a book about living with the Amish, I have a book about working with Hispanic healers in New Mexico, I'm working on a book about a family farm in Ireland right now.
ISD: How does it feel to be a published author? How old were you when you were first published?
MS: I was about 21 when I got my first poem published. The first publication is the big thrill, the first poem you get published, the first book you get published, you have a huge rush. It's always neat after that, I've published lots of books. But the first publication are really, really fun.
ISD: You were named the Poet Laureate of Iowa, what all does that entail?
MS: When you're appointed in Iowa, you're appointed by the governor for a two-year term, there's absolutely no money with it, but it's an honorary thing. Technically you're supposed to write a poem for the governor if he or she wants one. So, what it really is, you do a million readings, talks, workshops [and] events all over the state. Last year I did, on average, three events in different parts of the state, a week. That's on top of a regular teaching load. It's really intense.
In most states they give you some kind of stipend to do a project, and Iowa doesn't. So I did my own project, I developed my own website if anyone wants to post a poem or other piece of writing and get good feed back from their peers, it's iowalit.com.
ISD: So what do you like to do in your free time when not teaching or working on books or poetry things?
MS: I work in the garden, play music, play the banjo, read, watch movies, get together with friends [and] exercise.
ISD: What has been the most rewarding thing in your life thus far?
MS: I've had a lot of rewarding things in my life. Teaching is very, very rewarding for me. I've taught thousands of students to appreciate poetry, non-fiction and play-writing.
ISD: What do you plan to do after you finish teaching?
MS: Then I get to really write and really get to do my writing. I put in about 60 hours a week doing my teaching job. When I retire down the line, I won't have to [put in those hours] anymore.