Elizabeth Swados

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Elizabeth Swados (February 5, 1951 – January 5, 2016) was an American writer, composer, musician and theatre director. While some of her subject matter is humorous, such as her satirical look at Ronald Reagan (Rap Master Ronnie) and Doonesbury — both collaborations with Garry Trudeau — much of her work deals with darker issues such as racism, murder and mental illness.

Personal life

Born February 5, 1951 in Buffalo, New York,[1] Swados wrote about her life in her 1991 autobiography, The Four of Us, A Family Memoir, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.[2][3]

Her father, Robert O. Swados, was a successful attorney who helped Seymour H. Knox III convert the local Buffalo Sabres hockey club into a full National Hockey League team.[4] His autobiography, Counsel in the Crease: A Big League Player in the Hockey Wars was published by Prometheus Books in 2005.[5]

Her mother struggled with depression, while her older brother (and only sibling) Lincoln developed schizophrenia. Her mother committed suicide in 1974, and Lincoln died in 1989. Swados suffered from depression, a condition she discussed in her book, My Depression: A Picture Book.[6]

She studied music at Bennington College in Vermont, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973. In 1980, the Hobart and William Smith College awarded her an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters.[citation needed]

Swados died from complications following surgery for esophageal cancer on January 5, 2016.[7] She was 64.


Although many of Swados' plays are musicals, her compositions draw from folk and world music genres rather than from standard musical theatre. Working with Ellen Stewart, Andrei Serban and Peter Brook, she gave voice and form to a way of looking at pure sound that transcends the limits of language and her music for "Fragments of a Greek Trilogy" (Medea, Electra, and Trojan Women) with La MaMa, and for "Conference of the Birds" with Peter Brook paved the way for future musical innovation in American and World Theatre. Her first Broadway success, Runaways, was intended to be a community service piece with a short run. However, after appearing at The Public Theater,[8] it transferred to Broadway in May 1978.[9] She received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Choreography.[9] She was nominated for Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical, Outstanding Lyrics, and Outstanding Music,[9] and won an Obie Award for her direction.[8] In 1984 she composed the music for Gary Trudeau's satirical musical Rap Master Ronnie.[10][11] Her earlier musical with Trudeau, Doonesbury, opened on Broadway in 1983 at the Biltmore Theatre in November 1983.[12]

She composed music for film (such as 1981's Four Friends) [13] and television (such as Seize the Day in 1987)[14] and performed at Carnegie Hall.

She published three novels, three non-fiction books and nine children's books. Her most recent books are My Depression, Sidney's Animal Rescue and At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater. Her book, My Depression: A Picture Book (2005), was made into an animated short film that was an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014.[15] It includes voices by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi.[16]

She was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Fellowship, a Covenant Foundation Grant, a Special International PEN Citation, a Cine Award, and a Mira Award, among others.

Swados taught in the drama department at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts [17] and at The New School's Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts as a visiting artist.

Her articles have been published in the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Vogue, O and numerous other publications.

Selected bibliography

  • Swados, Elizabeth. Listening Out Loud: Becoming a Composer. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. ISBN 9780060159924
  • Swados, Elizabeth, and Joe Cepeda. Hey You! C'mere!: A Poetry Slam. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002. ISBN 9780439092579
  • Swados, Elizabeth, and Anne Wilson. The Animal Rescue Store. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005. ISBN 9780439554763 [18][19]
  • Swados, Elizabeth. The Four of Us: The Story of a Family. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991. ISBN 9780374152192 [3]
  • Swados, Elizabeth. My Depression: A Picture Book. New York: Hyperion, 2005. ISBN 9781401307899

Additional credits

  • Medea (1972- Obie)
  • Elektra (1974)
  • Trojan Women (1974)
  • Jumpin's Salty (1975 Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective production. Music: Elizabeth Swados. Lyrics: Eve Merriman).
  • Nightclub Cantata (1977) [10]
  • Dispatches, a Rock & Roll War (1979) [10]
  • Alice in Concert (1980)
  • The Haggadah, a Passover Cantata (1980) [10]
  • Enter Life (1982)
  • Lullabye and Goodnight (1982)
  • "jerusalem" poetry by Yehuda Amichai (1984) [10]
  • The Red Sneaks (1989)
  • Jonah (1990)
  • Groundhog (1992)
  • Conscience and Courage Cantata (1994)
  • Jabu (2005)
  • The Beauty Inside (2005)
  • Missionaries in Concert (2005)
  • Mental Missiles (2006)
  • Spider Opera (2006)
  • Kaspar Hauser (2007) [10]
  • The Great Divorce (2007)
  • Resilient Souls (2010) [10]
  • Occupy Olympus (2013)
  • *mark (2014)
  • My Depression (2014)
  • The Golem (2015)


  1. Grattan, Virginia L. (1993). American Women Songwriters: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313285103.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Macmillan retrieved 2010 October 24
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kirkus Review. 'The Four of Us', ISBN 0-374-15219-5 kirkusreviews.com, May 20, 2010 (online), August 1, 1991 (Review Issue), accessed January 6, 2016
  4. The Sports Network Sabres founder Swados dies, 9news.com; retrieved November 23, 2012.
  5. Barnes and Noble Synopsis and review
  6. My Depression: A Picture Book, Seven Stories Press; ISBN 1609805496/ISBN 978-1609805494
  7. Grimes, William. "Elizabeth Swados, Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals, Is Dead at 64", New York Times, January 5, 2016; retrieved January 5, 2016
  8. 8.0 8.1 Runaways Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed January 6, 2016
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "'Runaways' Broadway" playbillvault.com, accessed January 6, 2016
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Grimes, William (6 January 2016). "Elizabeth Swados, Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals, Is Dead at 64". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Rich, Frank. "Stage: Partisan Revue, 'Rap Master Ronnie' New York Times, October 4, 1984
  12. Rich, Frank. "Stage. 'Doonesbury'" New York Times, November 22, 1983
  13. "Swados Overview" tcm.com, accessed January 6, 2016
  14. Seize the Day tcm.com, accessed January 6, 2016
  15. Gordon, David. "Elizabeth Swados, Downtown Theater Icon and Creator of Broadway's 'Runaways', Has Died" theatermania.com, January 5, 2016
  16. My Depression: The Up and Down of IT hbo.com, accessedJanuary 7, 2016
  17. "Tisch Faculty" /tisch.nyu.edu, accessed January 6, 2016
  18. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-55476-3
  19. [1] kirkusreviews.com

External links