Books by Elizabeth Swados

WALKING THE DOG by Elizabeth Swados
Released: June 14, 2016

"One of a kind. Deserves a big splash and lots of readers."
An international art star becomes a dog walker after 25 harsh years in federal prison. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2005

The author's background in writing and composing for the theater is evident in this unusual collection of poetry that begs to be read aloud in dramatic voices or acted out as a class play. The 21 poems form a narrative arc that describes the inhabitants of a combination animal-rescue center and pet store, a fantastic sort of shelter that will take in a llama or a lobster. The unnamed narrator, usually an African-American teenaged boy who seems to be a helper at the shelter, introduces the owner of the store and a wide variety of potential pets. Swados uses stream-of-consciousness musings, invented words and animals sounds, snappy conversations and wildly imaginative characterizations to give the storeowner and each animal a unique personality. She isn't afraid to use rap conventions, near-rhymes or incorrect grammar when it suits the narrator, and she doesn't worry too much about her rhyme schemes or use of commas. Somehow, it all works together, enhanced by Wilson's vibrant illustrations, bright background colors and a jazzy design. (Poetry. 5-10)Read full book review >
HEY YOU! C’MERE by Elizabeth Swados
Released: March 1, 2001

In a burnished urban landscape full of the colors of summer, a group of youngsters gather. "Sis is eatin' poems! / Josh is drinkin' poems! / Amelia's wearin' poems on her feet! / . . . You've got a poem in your pocket, / A poem on your tongue, did you know that?" Their poetry slam takes them past "Tough Kids," what "A Good Cry" feels like, how fast "Summer" goes. Adults come in for some clear-eyed razzing: "Aunt Evelyn," who huggles and nuzzles and kootchie-koos "till you shriek"; "Great Granma," who's a little deaf, and "Mr. Befuddled," Mattie's Uncle Lester. The poems have bounce and pop and innocence, and would perform well for a group in readers' theater or on stage. Cepeda, who did the truly cool illustrations for Julius Lester's What a Truly Cool World (1999), matches playwright Swados's exuberance with vibrating backgrounds of orange or green or turquoise. Thick impasto colors and geometric forms take kinetic shape as the cast of characters, their props (don't miss the multilayered ice cream cones), and the architecture of fire escapes and sidewalks take the stage. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
FLAMBOYANT by Elizabeth Swados
Released: Sept. 10, 1998

Playwright/novelist Swados (The Myth Man, 1994, etc.) sends an Orthodox Jewish woman to teach English in a school for gay teenagers. Chana Landau appears ill-equipped to deal with the teen prostitutes and cross-dressers at Manhattan's Harvey Milk High. Her sheltered family home doesn't even contain a television,and she's working to build up a dowry for her impending marriage to the also-devout Avi Wiseman. (Appalled but intrigued by the unbuttoned atmosphere at Harvey Milk, she keeps the details of her new job from her father and fiancÇ.) But Chana's tougher than she seems: her ability to maintain ethnic and spiritual integrity when dealing with kids intent on humiliating her through sexual innuendo attracts the interest of 15-year-old Flamboy†nt, allegedly half-Jewish and definitely a good student when she can spare time from taking drugs and turning tricks on the West Side Highway. She and Chana form a relationship that has moments of genuine tenderness, though Swados unsentimentally delineates its roots in Flamboy†nt's lies and Chana's patronizing good intentions. The big revelation scene (think The Crying Game) is not exactly a stunning surprise, nor is Avi's apple-cart—upsetting visit to Harvey Milk, which prompts the predictable plot developments of the novel's second half. Swados is a capable writer, good at capturing the gaudy, wounded voices of Flamboy†nt and her friends. The depiction of conflict between Chana's religious beliefs and her fondness for Harvey Milk's errant teens, however, is much less convincing; the author doesn't convey any great understanding of or sympathy for Orthodox Judaism, and an amusingly sexy portrait of virginal lust between Chana and Avi can't make up for the lack of a real moral alternative to the desperate nihilism of Flamboy†nt's world. Nonetheless, smart observations and sharp character sketches make this worthwhile for serious fiction readers willing to tolerate some fundamental flaws. Problematic, but always pungent and at times penetrating. (Author tour) Read full book review >
THE MYTH MAN by Elizabeth Swados
Released: Dec. 1, 1994

Swados (The Four of Us, 1991) seems to have intended some sort of deep subtext in this puzzling novel, but it is too carefully buried. Rikki Nelson (yes, named after the other one) is nine years old. Her prostitute mother (who sometimes ``lent'' her to customers) has disappeared, and Rikki is living with a man who might be her biological father and who has theatrical aspirations: ``He said he wanted to direct long plays by a man named Eugene O'Neill.'' Although Rikki doesn't speak, he manages to find her advertising work as a model. Then her big break arrives, and she is taken in by Sasha Volotny, a famed experimental director. He begins, with his troupe, to develop a show called ``The Myth Man,'' which one participant describes as ``a metaphysical follies...Ed Sullivan for snobs.'' Rikki is entrusted to the care of Sasha's brother, Charles, a former drag queen. There are other quirky hangers-on, including a Yale Drama School graduate writing an article on the group for The Village Voice. Sasha (nÇ Stephen Solomon) is supposed to be a charismatic leader, but he just seems like a pretentious taskmaster. His own brother taunts him by telling him that he sounds like ``a Swami from Long Island.'' Sasha's prattle about mythology and creativity is a guaranteed snooze. When Charles—dressed as Icarus—accidentally lights on fire during a rehearsal, Rikki speaks—and thereafter babbles in strange, disjointed phrases. The group travels on to Paris, and finally Sasha receives a grant to take the company into the Amazon and towards its inevitable crisis and destruction. Swados, a playwright and composer, pokes fun at wealthy arts patrons and makes the adult actors look foolish through Rikki's childlike eyes and clear literary voice. But is she just trying to say that all theater is silly? This has the feel of a parable, but the moral remains a mystery. A traveling show that goes nowhere. (Author tour) Read full book review >
THE FOUR OF US by Elizabeth Swados
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

Swados (Listening Out Loud, 1988, etc.), a writer/composer best known for the musical Runaways, offers a painful memoir of growing-up in a family beset by mental illness—with compelling ghastliness in many of the details but insufficient overall drama or insight. A brief prologue introduces the family: the Swadoses—Jewish, upper middle class—in 1950's and 1960's Buffalo, where ``appearance was everything.'' Then come four long chapters, each focusing on one member of the family. First, and always foremost, is Elizabeth's schizophrenic older brother, Lincoln: eccentric, filthy, and brilliant as a child, he fell wildly ill during college, attempted suicide at 24 (losing an arm and a leg), and became a Lower East Side ``character'' who eventually died in wretched isolation. Next Swados turns to her depressed, alcoholic mother—sporadically creative but ``in her heart...a lonely orphan'' who committed suicide when the pressures (her son's condition, her suffocating marriage) became too much. Then there is father Robert, who reacted to the family illnesses (including his mother's schizophrenia) with rage and sheer activity, losing himself in an all-consuming sports-law career. And finally there's Elizabeth herself, always driven to be ``the child about whom my father could tell stories to his clients'': She overachieved like crazy, composing and performing, getting admitted to Bennington at 16, scoring Medea at La Mama for Andrei Serban at 19; she also exhausted herself with wild living, determined not to be like her conformist parents. The four-part structure here makes for a repetitious and often anticlimactic narrative, without satisfying shape or development. Swados's prose doesn't have enough variety or grace to fill out such an ambitious design. But her sincere attempt to understand her family's misery is often affecting, and the story of brother ``Lincoln Sail'' (as he called himself) is, though disjointed, grimly fascinating. Read full book review >