Reading Gladys Swan is like watching your grandmother take down the local bullies barehanded, while wiping a cool trail of red from a slightly bloodied lip before landing a massive leather boot to the groin.
The writing was a later incarnation of a style that had come to be known as ‘magical realism’ and for which literary wizard Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Excited by the grittiness of Swan’s characters, the poetic vulgarity of carnival life, backstage vernacular, and the indefatigable energy of eccentric folks battling to entertain and survive, the publishers watched this promising novel disappear into the dry and dusty sunset much like the carnival itself. The book, like so many works in the maelstrom of a cultural industry driven by the neurotic requirement of rapid sales, went out of stock and was quickly gone. Filmmaker Victor Nunez, who had optioned Carnival for the big screen in the late 80’s and wrote a full screenplay, also saw his hopes for Swan’s exuberant story fade into oblivion.
Swan never broke her gait though, and continued to publish in that great hopeful American garden of small presses and literary magazines, where a faithful and energized readership continued to grow. She pushed on and penned the next four volumes of what emerged as an extraordinary quintet that captures with breathless vividness and raw truth a major swathe of the American psychic and aesthetic landscape.
Gladys Swan’s raw, tough, and gritty voice, erotic description and her scalpel-sharp eye for tough realism cum fantasy may take you by surprise. A reader with any historical context will be reminded of Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road. As publisher, I like to imagine Walt Whitman and Carl Jung in bleacher seats at Swan’s circus with Steinbeck and Hemingway rudely goading the elephants. This is the extraordinary world of Gladys Swan’s writing. Carnival will take its place in the canon of an American literary art form that has bedazzled international readers since the days of Huckleberry Finn. Swan’s prose devastates and conquers with the power and ease of a literary master.
It has been almost thirty years since that first publication, and Carnival for the Gods is back for good, along with the rest of the quintet which Kiwai Media will bring out in 2014 and 2015. This time around you’ll connect with a more senior Gladys Swan, who is still out there holed up in a shed in the wooded wilderness of Maine in front of a canvas and a typewriter – one of America’s most original and spirited writers and women. Discover her with us.