York County native Maxine Swann talks on writing and living in Argentina

Maxine Swann

(Submitted photo)

Maxine Swann had a childhood based in the natural world. Born in York and raised on a farm in Stewartstown, Swann’s parents aimed to grow, raise or create anything the family needed.

“They were what is now called ‘back-to-the-landers,’” Swann said. “The idea was that we wouldn’t buy anything. Now it boggles my mind that they were able to do that, now that I have a family and realize all the work involved.”

Her family’s large farm provided Swann with a sense of growing up in the wilderness, she said. Her other great love — reading — also came from her parents. Her father, a reporter at The Gazette and Daily, filled their home with books.

As she read, she yearned to write something of her own, as well.

“I … think I’m someone who, I read something or do something and then I want to make something of it,” she said.

Decades later, Swann, 44, is a celebrated author with three novels under her belt and a growing interest in freelance journalism.

She’s also quite the distance from her childhood home — Swann has lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for more than a decade.

Her international move arose from an university exchange program in Paris. Swann stayed after the semester ended to be with an Argentine man she’d met. In the end, their lives led them back to Argentina.

Swann published her first story, “Flower Children,” in a 1997 issue of the literary magazine Ploughshares, winning a number of awards. But Swann said she thinks in novels.

“I think every writer has a form where they feel most comfortable,” she said. “My vision of the world is the novel.”

Her current project is set in Pakistan, laced with the theme of life as an expatriate — a subject that also arose in her 2011 novel, “The Foreigners.” But Swann has not found a great difference between how her works are received by Americans versus Argentines.

“‘Flower Children’ I thought was such an American story,” Swann said, that she wondered why the publisher wanted to release it in Argentina. But readers there loved it, she said.

“I think that’s usually the case,” Swann explained. “You have all these assumptions of how this book will be received. All of that is irrelevant once the book goes into the world. It does its own thing.”

Swann has also jumped into freelance journalism, including a recent article for The New York Times magazine about an internationally-renowned physicist who falls in love online with a woman not telling the whole truth.

“It’s really getting out of your world and discovering worlds that you don’t know about,” Swann said. “Fiction is the opposite, quite interior, and you spend quite a lot of time alone.”

The pace between fiction and journalism changes, as well, she said.

“A book takes years to write, then (it’s) at least a year after you write it before it’s published,” Swann said. “You often feel that you’re alone with it and you might just be totally crazy thinking it’s interesting.”

That’s why Swann appreciates the recognition that comes with awards and interacting with her readers.

“When people read your book and (then) tell you about it. That’s maybe even the most gratifying.” 

About Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.
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