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Liz Swados: 1951-2016

January 6, 2016

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Seven Stories Press joins with New York City and the world in mourning our friend and author Liz Swados, who passed away yesterday at the age of 64.  Liz was a beacon of New York’s downtown culture, an artist of rare generosity with a genius for making us feel the connections between hardship and resilience, beauty and truth, one person and another.

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1951, Liz began making a name for herself in the New York theater before she had even finished her undergraduate studies at Bennington College. Greater exposure came in 1978, with the smash success of Runaways, a theater piece Liz wrote and directed.  It was based on conversations she’d had with teenage runaways — some of whom went on to star in the show — and its success exceeded all expectations: after a successful run at New York’s Public Theater, it was nominated for five Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and an Obie (which, for her direction, Liz won).

Liz was one of those artists who never sits still for long. In the thirty-seven years since Runaways‘ closing, she was the author of more than ten books for children and adults (including My Depression, a picture book that looks unflinchingly at mental illness and speaks movingly of how to survive it); created dozens of theater pieces, including stage adaptations of writing by poets including Yehudai Amichai, Sylvia Plath, and Pablo Neruda, and collaborations with Meryl Streep, Garry Trudeau, Taylor Mac, and others; and made work that addressed themes and events including the Vietnam War, the Reagan presidency, the Biblical story of Esther, the origins of life on earth, and the stories of social outcasts, including Kaspar Hauser, Alfred Jarry, and Liz herself.

Liz’s was a world of extremes — extreme anger at injustice, extreme joy in community and beauty, sometimes extreme sadness — and one suffused with the sweetness that can be felt at the heart of everything she did.  In the end, it is perhaps that sweetness, wonderful, brazen, and courageous, that characterizes her most of all.  She is survived by her wife Roz and by generations of fans and admirers around the world.

We’ll miss you, Liz.  We miss you already.

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