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Stu Levitan welcomes one of the most interesting and insightful essayists on the scene today, Barrett Swanson, here to discuss his outstanding first collection, Lost in Summerland, published this spring by the good people at Counterpoint Press.
Addressing toxic masculinity at a men’s retreat in Ohio. Embedded on an organic produce farm in Waunakee run by a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Dealing with the traumatic brain injury to his older brother, and the drowning death of his best friend. Sussing out a utopian compound in the Florida swamps. Working on his football technique with his father. Role-playing a victim at FEMA’s massive disaster simulation site in Texas. Hanging out at the West Wing Weekend outside Washington. Being moved beyond comprehension at a spiritualist retreat he attended with his brother in upstate New York. Just some of journeys Barrett Swanson takes to find America – and himself – in the age of Trump.
Lost in Summerland is a tour de force of cultural anthropology and vibrant writing, 14 essays that reveal both who Barrett Swanson is and who we are. Because he believes what James Baldwin wrote in 1962 – that the artist “must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.”
Barrett Swanson grew up in Brookfield, went to Catholic high school in Waukesha. After graduating with a degree in political science and English from Loyola University in Chicago, he got his MFA in creative writing from the UW-Madison – making him our third guest from the UW creative writing program, following Aimee Nezhu-ku-matathil and Steven Wright. He received a Pushcart Prize in 2015, and the next year returned to the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing as a Halls Emerging Artist Fellow.
A contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, his short fiction and essays have been featured in the New York Times magazine, the Guardian and numerous other periodicals, and collected in several anthologies, including Best American Sports Writing, Best American Travel Writing and Best American Essays.
He is now also a tenure track assistant professor in the department of languages and literatures at the university of Wisconsin whitewater, where his rate my professor rating is 4.8 out of 5, with such praise as awesome, inspirational and would smoke with him. Which, of course, Barrett would certainly not do. He lives with his wife on Madison’s east side.
It is a pleasure to welcome to Madison BookBeat, Barrett Swanson.