Tracey Boone Swan is the co-founding editor of 34thParallel, a quarterly magazine that features poetry, photography, fiction, and interviews with new and emerging artists. As Trace Sheridan, Tracey Swan’s poetry and prose can be found in numerous journals including BluePrintReview, apt., and All Things Girl.
Swan received her MA from UT Austin and her dual MFA at Chapman University. She was awarded a Fulbright Grant to do research in Paris for 2012, where she examined the performance of gender and race during the Parisian jazz age during the interwar period. The Fulbright will facilitate a continuation of research that began with the archives of Bricktop’s papers at Emory and more recently at the Schomburg Center in New York. Her fiction has appeared online and in print–her work was featured in Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic published by The University of Texas Press. After the Fulbright, she is going to find a Ph.D. program and get to work—finally. Actually, she’ll be applying in the fall for next year.
As you are a mother, university instructor, and editor—among other roles and pursuits—you are certainly one hard-working woman. How do you find the time for creative pursuits? Is it important to you to make the time?
To be frank, I’m not sure how I manage to make time for much of anything some days. I am literally running from the time I get up until the time I drop off to sleep. Being creative is simply part of who I am–it is not simply a past-time that I like or enjoy doing. I need to write. When I cannot find the time to write, I am not myself, I feel unsettled, there is something I have left undone. The feeling is a kin to that anxious fear that you’ve forgotten to unplug the iron after leaving the house in a rush.
I think that there are many creative pursuits that engage with others and require interaction to be successful. Writing, however, is quite solitary in its nature and it is a lonely exercise. It doesn’t take much to do it when you think of it in this manner–it only requires you, a pen or a pencil, and a piece of paper–or your iPad. Having said all this, I must be creative to find time to write. I write when I can, whenever I can, where ever I can, however I can, whether it is two pages or twenty–I write because it is who I am, so I make time to do it.
You won the highly competitive Fulbright Fellowship in 2012, which provided you with the opportunity to conduct research in Paris. How did the experiences of both the grant process and studying abroad go for you?
My time in Paris as a Fulbright Scholar and Advanced Student researcher was a life-altering opportunity both professionally and personally. Winning the fellowship was a validation of my research and my area of expertise. The application process was tenuous, but well worth every revision. I would never have applied if Professor Mark Axelrod would not have given me a kick in that direction. Additionally, there were professors in the English Department (like Professors Joanna Levin and Mildred Lewis) and from other Departments, such as Professor Jennifer Keene from History, who read drafts of my proposal and gave me valuable feedback about what I might reword or change. Professor Barbara Mulch, the Fulbright Adviser at Chapman University, believed in my project from the beginning and was so instrumental in my successful application. I am grateful to have had her support. I am also so sorry she passed away while I was in Paris, and I never got to share my experiences with her.
Were you able to also continue your creative pursuits during your research?
I did but not in the same sort of driven manner that I had in graduate school. There is something to be said about living in a place that gives you daily inspiration. I certainly understand how so many of the “greats” moved to Paris to write. Paris is an incredibly inspiring place–when I say this I must qualify to which Paris I am referring. I am not speaking of the touristy sections that are overrun by people fitting every possible clichéd description possible. At the same time, I am also not thinking about the pristine aristocratic areas where the riche (old and nouveau) live and play. Perhaps the best way to describe the Paris that inspires me is to use a French expression. The French have this expression, “jolie laid,” for which the literal translation is pretty ugly. Here pretty isn’t modifying ugly, but instead can be understood more like a hyphenated expression pretty-ugly. I hope my translation works, translation always involves a measure of interpretation.
In essence, this expression speaks to the notion that an individual can be ugly, say by conventional standards (whatever that is) but pretty because of their ugliness since this what makes them unique.
For me Paris is jolie-laid; this mesmerizing seductress, who is past her prime but on a good day or on a bad one can still wow you, stun you, make you feel lucky to be alive and blessed to have the privilege to know her.
You co-founded the lit magazine 34thParallel, which features works from many talented artists. What made you start your own magazine, and why did you choose that particular name?
Well, at the time both the co-founding editor (Martin Chipperfield) and I lived on the 34th parallel. That’s where the name came from–it was different, felt right, and having a number in our name meant we would be listed at the top (numerically rather than alphabetically) on sites such as CLMP and Poets and Writers, for example.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of getting 34thParallel up and running?
The process was enjoyable–but very involved and time-consuming. Martin did and does the lion’s share of the production and creative design. I am more of a silent editor these days, and he continues to produce a visually appealing format to showcase talented writers and their work.
What qualities do you look for in submissions?
Originality…Reality…Work that gives a window into the human condition…writing that makes you think, “damn I wish I’d written that!” I don’t know what we are looking for, maybe the better question is to ask what we are not looking for. And for that it’s best to visit the web site www.34thparallel.net and it’s best to read the magazine before you submit.
Your short fiction piece “For Old Time’s Sake” focuses on a woman of forty-eight who seems to be in a fairly disappointing yet likely typical relationship, and in the just fifty-nine words of “Motherly Advice” you vividly depict a woman who considers her mother’s warning about her conduct. Are you especially inspired by women’s relationships and domestic scenarios?
I am especially inspired by women’s lived experiences. I am also inspired by the details, the minutia, the minuscule, and seemingly insignificant moments of being; for me these moments–the seconds when nothing else matters in that specific frame–represent clarity for my characters. It is difficult to capture but I think perhaps this is what unifies my writing.
What’s next for you with regard to your creative pursuits?
I continue to write, to plod along. I am working on a new project, but it’s very hush-hush just now. HA! I’ll let you know when I know.
Can we expect a novel from you at some point?
God, I hope so.
Check out 34thParallel: http://www.34thParallel.net
Read some of Tracey’s work:
All Things Girl: http://allthingsgirl.com/2008/07/wall-flower-girl-by-trace-sheridan/
Tracey wins the Fulbright: http://wilkinsonnews.blogspot.com/2011/03/student-news-grad-student-awarded.html