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Storytelling As Advocacy In The Beloved Community at A Room of One’s Own

May 18 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm


Madison-based author Tegan Nia Swanson’s 2022 debut novel, Things We Found When The Water Went Down, starts with the basic elements of a murder mystery: a body, the cops, a suspect. From there, Swanson spirals into the tangled lore of a family and a place. The decaying mine town of Beau Caelais and the Inland Sea it sits on are familiar stand-ins for any number of post-industrial places along the Great Lakes. The map Swanson provides in the book will also remind Madisonians of a less-great but still beloved lake. 


Swanson fills this setting with an uncanny blend of small-town grudges and righteously wrathful magic. As teenage protagonist Lena Abernathy tries to understand why her mother was arrested for the murder (then escaped from jail and disappeared), she uncovers her share of petty human secrets, but connects with forces far more vast and terrible and beautiful. Swanson’s non-linear storytelling approach lets the reader get richly immersed in the book’s overlapping themes: deep-seated cultures of misogynist violence, environmental degradation, and the resilient chosen families queer people build in a hostile world.

That’s all just a hint of the depths, and the depths beyond the depths, that the novel explores. Things We Found When The Water Went Down reads like a scrapbook of its own mythology. Between passages that Lena narrates in first-person, other characters leave behind interview transcripts, newspaper clippings, cryptic notes, stately poetic declarations. It’s an approach that may gradually draw in readers who enjoy fantasy novels, or immersive piece-together-the-story video games like Gone Home and What Remains Of Edith Finch

At this event, a fundraiser for Freedom Inc. and UNIDOS (a Madison non-profit serving Latino survivors of domestic violence), Swanson will take part in a panel discussion with Freedom Inc.’s Jessica Williams, UNIDOS’ Virginia Gittens Escudero, and City of Madison Poet Laureate Angela Trudell Vasquez. Swanson and Vasquez also both work at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. The panel, titled “Storytelling As Advocacy In The Beloved Community,” will likely draw connections between the novel’s exploration of violence against women and all the panelists’ day-to-day work. 

On May 18, a Room of One’s Own will also be donating 10 percent of all its in-store and online sales to Freedom Inc. and UNIDOS.

—Scott Gordon


A Room of One’s Own
2717 Atwood Avenue
Madison, 53704 United States
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