Dr. Susan Swartwout: The Woman Behind the Press

Dr. Susan Swartwout: The Woman Behind the Press

susans-advice_graphicImpeccable. Accomplished. Talented. Tenacious. Nice.

It’s no surprise that someone who has dedicated her whole life to words could have so many that define her. But for anyone who’s ever met Dr. Susan Swartwout, words are what it’s all about.

As publisher of the Southeast Missouri State University Press, Swartwout doesn’t just head up the entity but built it, over a lot of nights and weekends.

“When I came to Southeast, I wanted to create a university press tied to student programming and coursework, with an efficient and flexible cash-flow-oriented production budget,” she says.

Create it, she did. In 2001, with a small grant. Her vision was a press that could provide students with important skills for careers in publishing and writing. Getting there, would be a lot of work.

“It was my dream, and I am persistent.”

The dream has grown into a sustainable press that’s seen international acclaim, but again, getting there wasn’t easy.

“One grant does not a university press make,” says Swartwout. “But our first published book broke all sales records. We now have an endowment, sponsorships, and two annual grants from state agencies to offset some of our production costs.”

These days, Swartwout says, her biggest challenge is time. The press has 1.5 staff members. All the time she’s put into it thus far has certainly paid off.  But that success means there’s even more to be done.

The Press oversees the Dorothy and Wedel Nilsen Literary Endowment, which annually provides student scholarships, a top-notch Visiting Writer each semester, and the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel, which supports worthy new novelists. The Press has ongoing award sponsorships for an annual poetry book contest and two short fiction contests, as well as an annual anthology of military writing, funded through a partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council.

As if those programs aren’t payoff enough, Southeast’s University Press receives international attention and hundreds of articles in forums from the Harvard Club of the United Kingdom to University of Chicago Magazine, even a spot on the CBS Today Show.

“A university press brings prestige and recognition to its parent organization not only through its books but the publicity that the university would not acquire otherwise,” says Swartwout.

That recognition has included national literary reviews in major forums and city newspapers, such as American Library Association Booklist, the Boston Globe, The New York Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, New Orleans Times-Picayune, and many others.

“Our books and the journal Big Muddy have served as classroom texts—with Southeast’s name displayed—in high schools and colleges across the nation,” says Swartwout.

With so many pride points to choose from for a career high, it’s really no surprise what Swartwout selects.

“Our very special press is a learning lab for students, with over 230 student interns and graduate assistants trained to date.”

Her other favorite part?

“Being the person who gives an author a finished, beautiful book of his or her words. That’s a dream fulfilled.”

After all the work and accomplishments, Swartwout will hand the reigns of the University Press over at the close of 2016.

“I have a long list of dreams I want to accomplish,” she says. “I’m still in the making.”

Carving out some time to focus on her own dreams seems fair, especially after what she says has been 20 amazing, educational years at Southeast.

“I’m very grateful for that.”

Us, too, Susan. Us, too.


Illustration / Tyler Sayer

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