Terese Svoboda

Acclaimed Novelist, Memoirist & Poet

“A fabulous fabulist.” —Publisher's Weekly

“For readers who prefer the chill of a dry martini.” —Library Journal

“There are writers you would be tempted to read regardless of the setting or the period or the plot or even the genre...Terese Svoboda is one of those writers.” —Bloomsbury Review

Poetry, fiction, memoir—each genre infiltrates the other as boundaries elegantly dissolve in Terese Svoboda's writing. How does she do it? The riches of language lure the reader to the denouement of the prose sentence, with the cadence and sound of poetry stripped bare enough to hear the voice clearly in charge of the story. In poetry, Svoboda walks out to the edge where language is made then her prose mines what is found. Few balance so thoughtfully. Poets quail at the narrative structure of a long work and resort to transparency; prose writers forsake language for character and plot. Svoboda's work presents a unique opportunity for readers to enjoy both in abundance.

A dazzling master of craft with a body of work that includes five books of poetry, six novels, a memoir, a book of translation and over a hundred published short stories, Terese Svoboda's subject is human suffering. Called "disturbing, edgy and provocative" by Book Magazine, her work is often the surreal poetry of a nightmare yet is written with such wit, verve and passion that she can address the direst subjects. "Terese Svoboda has such range—of subject, of emotion (from whimsical play to chillingly dead serious), that these poems take you on a wild ride, fast and dangerous, but always in control. This is a goddamn terrific book!", writes Thomas Lux about Weapons Grade (2009). Two novels, Pirate Talk or Mermelade, and Bohemian Girl are forthcoming (2010 and 2011).

The 2007 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize-winning memoir, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent—about her uncle who served as a military policeman in occupied Japan carried a secret until his suicide after the revelations of Abu Ghraib—was called "Astounding!" by the New York Post and was selected "Best of Asia 2008" by the Japan Times. Her work has been chosen for the Writer's Choice column in the New York Times Book Review, an National Endowment for the Humanities grant in translation, and an O. Henry Award.

Cannibal, her first novel, won the Bobst Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association first fiction prize. Vogue called Cannibal "a woman's Heart of Darkness" and it was also chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by Spin. Her second novel, A Drink Called Paradise, one of Voice Literary Supplement's ten best reads of the summer, was partially based on her experience living in the Cook Islands. Booklist called it "a stunning novel, frighteningly mysterious and complex." The New York Times called Trailer Girl and Other Stories, "a book of genuine grace and beauty." 

She has taught at Davidson, Bennington, William and Mary, Williams College, San Francisco State, the New School, University of Miami, University of Hawaii, Columbia's School of the Arts graduate program, and Sarah Lawrence.

In addition, Svoboda acted as producer for the Columbia Translation Series and the Voices and Visions series. She has produced poetry videos and documentaries that have aired on PBS, internationally, and have been screened at the Museum of Modern Art and the Getty. She curated "Between Word and Image" for the Museum of Modern Art. Her libretto for WET, a chamber opera for Death and five voices, premiered at Disney's RedCat performance space in L.A. in 2005. Winner of a PEN/Columbia Fellowship, she spent a year in the south Sudan with the Nuer, translating and filming which led her to co-found the NY Anthropological Film Center, later the Margaret Mead Film Festival.

She also writes proposals for innovative applications of new technology and lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

Pursued by a mermaid, two boys talk their way into pirating and end up in the Arctic where a secret unhinges them both. Disabled piecemeal, harassed by a parrot, marooned on a tree-challenged island, posing as Pilgrims, scrimshawing and singing their way out of prison, the spunky pirates of Pirate Talk or Mermalade defy and indeed eliminate all description: it's a novel in voices.

Trailer for Pirate Talk or Mermalade

About WEAPONS GRADE (2009)

 "Svoboda’s poems are as haunting as they are funny, as pleasurable as they are powerful." —Publisher's Weekly

"Svoboda does not tell things straight but delivers cracked, impressionistic fragments bound and delivered by an incredible drive."  —Library Journal

Weapons Grade, Terese Svoboda's fifth collection of poetry, concerns the power of occupation—political and personal—that often plays with sestina, sonnet, and couplets, as if only form can contain the fury of an occupation. There's also elegy and lullaby and seduction but, in the words of the sixties tune "Wooly Bully," the reader must "Watch it now, watch it." Political, highly poised, grand and intensely lyrical...Weapons Grade is both whistleblower and elegy, a tour de force in the expansive in-your-face tradition of Susan Griffin and Garry Trudeau. Svoboda is an indefatigably American writer of conscience and acuity—a documentarian and saboteur, satirist and sharp-tongued citizen, her poems dangerous and heartbreaking. Forget the rockets'/red glare you so dearly love/and tear down that bright banner blood./We can't be moths attracted by light/we must...chew at the fuse. Svoboda does, indeed, chew the fuse—inexorably, lyrically, heroically. —Maureen Seaton

Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize,
Selected by Robert Polito

“Delving into the past, in this wonderful, singularly wry memoir, turns up enough guilt to go around for everyone. And yet, such is the honesty, humor and literary skill of Terese Svoboda that she manages to turn this sad story into a triumph of compassion and insight.” —Phillip Lopate

In 1946, Terese Svoboda's uncle served as a military policeman in occupied Japan. He was assigned to guard convicted fellow Americans—GIs gathered from all over the Pacific. "The captain called a meeting for all the MPs. He said the prison was getting overcrowded, terribly overcrowded. He said he was going to have to start executing the prisoners, the ones in the death cells." Svoboda's uncle remained a silent witness to the unqualified punishment of American prisoners, many of them African American. His closely guarded secret remained under wraps for decades. As a child Svoboda thought of her uncle as superman, with "black Clark Kent glasses, grapefruit-sized biceps." At nearly eighty, he could still boast a washboard stomach—and tell war stories. With the news of Abu Ghraib, he fell into a terrible depression; and the tapes he sent Svoboda ended abruptly with his suicide. Svoboda launched her own investigation, traveling to Japan, digging through buried files at the National Archives, and contacting the few surviving vets who served with her uncle. Black Glasses Like Clark Kent reveals how the vagaries of military justice can allow the worst to happen and be buried by time and protocol.

Terese Svoboda website