Elizabeth Swados
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Elizabeth Swados
Elizabeth Swados
Born (1951-02-05)February 5, 1951
Buffalo, New York, United States
Died January 5, 2016(2016-01-05) (aged 64)
Writer, composer, musician, theatre director

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][5] His autobiography, Counsel in the Crease: A Big League Player in the Hockey Wars, was published by Prometheus Books in 2005.[6]

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.[7] Swados also suffered from depression, a condition she discussed in her book, My Depression: A Picture Book which was published by Seven Stories Press in 2014.[8]

She studied music at Bennington College in Vermont, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973. In 1980, the Hobart and William Smith Colleges awarded her an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters.[9]

Swados died from complications following surgery for esophageal cancer on January 5, 2016.[10] 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.[] 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,[11] it transferred to Broadway in May 1978.[12] She received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography.[12] She was nominated for Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical, Outstanding Lyrics, and Outstanding Music,[12] and also won an Obie Award for her direction.[11]

In 1984 she composed the music for Garry Trudeau's satirical musical Rap Master Ronnie.[10] Her earlier musical with Trudeau, Doonesbury, opened on Broadway in 1983 at the Biltmore Theatre in November 1983.[13] In 1985, her musical play The Beautiful Lady, concerning the life and works of six world class Russian poets who lived, composed and performed in St. Petersburg at the time of the Revolution, won the first Helen Hayes "Best New Play" award. She composed music for film (such as 1981's Four Friends)[14] and television (such as Seize the Day in 1987),[15] and performed at Carnegie Hall.[16]

Swados made guest appearances on eleven soap operas, four from ABC Daytime (Loving, All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital), three from NBC Daytime (Days of Our Lives, Another World, and Santa Barbara) and four from CBS Daytime (The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light).

She published three novels, three non-fiction books, and nine children's books. Her later books included My Depression: A Picture Book, Sidney's Animal Rescue, and At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater. 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.[17] It includes voices by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi.[18]

In June, 2016, Swados' final novel, Walking The Dog, will be posthumously published by The Feminist Press. The narrative follows a former child prodigy painter and rich-girl kleptomaniac as she struggles to reintegrate into society following a botched heist, which left her incarcerated for two decades.[19]

Swados 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.[16]

She taught in the drama department at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts,[20] 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.[16]

Shortly after Swados' death in 2016, the actress Diane Lane honored her by establishing a grant for arts educators.[21] The two had a close personal connection that dated back to the 1970s: Swados provided the music for Lane's acting debut in Andrei Serban's 1972 production of Medea, and collaborated with the actress again on Runaways.[21]

Runaways was revived in July 2016 by the New York City Center as a part of its Encores! Off-Center season, a series that explores rarely-revived Off Broadway shows.[22]

Selected bibliography

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]
  • Esther: A Vaudeville Megillah (1988)[25]
  • 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 (The Up and Down and Up of It) (2014)
  • The Nomad (2015)
  • The Golem (2015)
  • Walking The Dog (2016)


  1. ^ Grattan, Virginia L. (1993). American Women Songwriters: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313285103. 
  2. ^ Macmillan retrieved 2010 October 24.
  3. ^ a b 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 (November 23, 2012). "Sabres founder Swados dies." Retrieved from Fox News website 2016-07-03.
  5. ^ Warner, Gene. "Robert O. Swados, who helped bring the Sabres to Buffalo, is dead at 93" Buffalo News, November 23, 2012.
  6. ^ Barnes and Noble Synopsis and review.
  7. ^ Simon, Jeff. "Reliving One Family's Unhappiness Elizabeth Swados' Memoir, An Unsparing Horror Story" Archived 2016-04-25 at the Wayback Machine. Buffalo News, September 18, 1991.
  8. ^ My Depression: A Picture Book, Seven Stories Press; ISBN 1609805496/ISBN 978-1609805494.
  9. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.." Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Grimes, William (January 5, 2016). "Elizabeth Swados, Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals, Is Dead at 64". New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  11. ^ a b Runaways Archived 2007-10-24 at the Wayback Machine. Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed January 6, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "'Runaways' Broadway" playbillvault.com, accessed January 6, 2016.
  13. ^ Rich, Frank (November 22, 1983). "Stage. 'Doonesbury'". New York Times.
  14. ^ "Swados Overview" tcm.com, accessed January 6, 2016.
  15. ^ Seize the Day tcm.com, accessed January 6, 2016.
  16. ^ a b c "Elizabeth A. Swados." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Accessed via Biography in Context database July 3, 2016.
  17. ^ Gordon, David. "Elizabeth Swados, Downtown Theater Icon and Creator of Broadway's 'Runaways', Has Died" theatermania.com, January 5, 2016.
  18. ^ My Depression: The Up and Down of IT hbo.com, accessed January 7, 2016
  19. ^ "Walking the Dog". The Feminist Press. Retrieved . 
  20. ^ Green, Allyson (January 7, 2016). "Remembering Liz Swados." New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  21. ^ a b Chow, Andrew R. (February 17, 2016). "Diane Lane to Honor Elizabeth Swados With a Grant for Arts Educators". ArtsBeat. New York Times. Retrieved .  Print version appear February 18, 2016, under the title "Grants From Diane Lane Will Honor Swados".
  22. ^ Paulson, Michael (January 6, 2016). "'Runaways' to Be Revived This Summer". ArtsBeat. New York Times. Retrieved . 
  23. ^ Children's Book Review: THE ANIMAL RESCUE STORE by Elizabeth Swados, Author, Anne Wilson, Illustrator , illus. by Anne Wilson. Scholastic/ Levine $16.95 (48p) ISBN 978-0-439-55476-3
  24. ^ [1] kirkusreviews.com
  25. ^ Gussow, Mel (February 24, 1988). "Stage: 'Esther: A Vaudeville Megillah'". New York Times.

External links

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