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Stacey Swann ('05)

"My MFA gave me the time and a feeling of permission to focus on writing for the long haul."

Alain Jules Hirwa ('23) speaks with Stacey Swann ('05) about her draw to writing, her MFA experience, and her acclaimed debut novel. 


Stacey Swann holds an M.F.A. from Texas State University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her first novel, Olympus, Texas, was a Good Morning America Book Club Pick and was longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2021 First Novel Prize. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals, and she is a contributing editor of American Short Fiction


Alain Hirwa [AH]: First off, I'm curious to know when you started writing, and what that early experience was like.

Stacey Swann [SS]: Thanks to my mother, I was always a big reader. Part of me wanted to be a writer ever since I was a kid, but I didn't have confidence in my creativity. After a few years of low-wage jobs after college, I started looking into grad schools for Social Work and Library Science. But I also signed up for a couple of extension classes at UT in creative writing. I decided that if I didn't put a real effort into being a writer in that moment, there was a good chance I would never attempt it. So rather than one of the more "practical" degrees, I applied to MFA programs instead. Once I got into Texas State, it allowed me to give myself permission to pursue what I had always wanted to. Though, it's probably a good thing that I didn't know then it would take me another sixteen years before I sold my first novel!

AH: What was your experience in the MFA and after at Texas State? Were there any professors who have influenced your writing career the most?  Did you manage staying in communication with your classmates?

SS: I had a wonderful experience at Texas State. Debra Monroe was my Thesis advisor and such a brilliant teacher; I learned so much about writing from her. My year was small, with less than ten incoming students, but I think, if anything, that made the sense of community that Director Tom Grimes worked hard to build even stronger. In fact, I'm still in a writing group with several of my former TSU classmates. And I still remember amazing lit classes from Michael Hennessey and Paul Cohen. I also learned so much by teaching at TSU, both during my MFA and later as an adjunct. 

AH: That's nice to hear! When did you start writing your novel? Did your time in the MFA contribute in some ways?

SS: I started my novel way back in 2006, though I spent as much time avoiding working on it than actually working on it! I found an agent and sold the book in the fall of 2018, and I worked with my fantastic editor, Lee Boudreaux, on revisions for another two years. She really helped me with the pacing, especially in the second half.

My MFA gave me the time and a feeling of permission to focus on writing for the long haul. Workshop gave me a crash course in craft, too. It's so much easier to become a better writer when you are getting to see what a group of people are taking from your work, and also it's really hard to see your own craft weaknesses until you first see it in a fellow writer's work. 

AH: What inspired Olympus, Texas

SS: I've always had a huge love of stories about big dysfunctional families. There's something about having these complex and shifting family bonds that seems perfect for novels, as well as all that shared history. Also, it's much harder to shake off family members than friends and lovers. So, I was just following in the tradition of books I loved like Pride and Prejudice, The Lonely Polygamist, and The God of Small Things.

AH: What’s next for your writing, Stacey?  

SS:  Since finishing revisions on Olympus, I've just been working on essays and short stories. However, I do have an idea for a novel bumping around in my head and I hope to be seriously working on it by the summer (2021). It's too early to know exactly what it will be about, but I do know it will be set in Austin and have something to do with Texas politics.


Purchase Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann here.



Summer, 2021