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accents on english | spring-summer 16

Grit and Generosity

Swarthouts Support the Writer's Life

Editor's Note: This piece was adapted from remarks given at the 54th annual Swarthout Awards ceremony.

Glendon Swarthout’s novels moved me long before I ever knew who he was: They Came to Cordura, I was eight, staying up past my bedtime; Bless the Beasts and the Children, I was a teenager, growing up in Arizona, riding a horse; The Shootist, I was a graduate student. A few months ago I had the opportunity to watch, with a member of my own family, the film, The Homesman. As you may not know, Glendon’s son, Miles, co-wrote the screenplay from his father’s novel. If you haven’t had a chance to see that film, I encourage all of you to find it.

So long as we are able to live and write and appreciate the stories of our lives, nothing is ever lost. Twenty-nine years ago, I won a Swarthout Award. Since then, dozens of my own students have won Swarthout Awards. We are all part of a great big living stream. For me, to speak personally? That Swarthout Moment both validated and fed my life. With that prize money, I bought a plane ticket to New England, where I visited a prep-school, which then offered me a job, and at which I would then teach, and where, in fact, I would start a family and write my own first two books.

I watched that movie, The Homesman, with my own son, who now wants to be a writer. Who knows, really, what we will become? Because of that award I received when I was twenty-five, and because of other things, known and unknown, I am here now to say that I am grateful for the fact of Glendon Swarthout and his legacy, his books and stories, his family, and this award which has lasted for decades strictly to support the emerging talents of those who have been blessed with the grit and the openness and the courage to follow his lead.

In April, we gathered to celebrate the 54th annual Swarthout Awards and that spirit of warmth and generosity which makes them possible.

There is an odd and humbling paradox to the writer’s life. The writer writes alone, yes, but nobody lives alone to write. We are surrounded and supported by the communities we mutually appreciate and in which we collectively thrive. We are all here to support each other and to celebrate what we all love: the word on the page.

T. M. McNally