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Biography and Contact Info

Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of Genius

William Blake

One summer I was living alone in Boston, and the loneliness was deadly. The thought occurred to me that I could sell my car and buy a camera. Then I wouldn’t be wandering around alone, I’d be searching for pictures. So I did. Gone was the Triumph Spitfire. In my hand, a Canon A1. The transformation was profound.


That was the beginning of my storytelling journey. It would inspire me to apply for college, two years after I’d barely graduated from high school. At the University of Bridgeport, I would find that storytelling was valued, in cinema, in creative writing, and I watched and I read and I created as much as I could. After graduation, I attended the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, a one year MA program, and the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, a two year MFA, to focus my efforts on poetry. I favored a narrative type of poem, but I loved the lyrics as well—the focus on the image, expanding moments and sensations as long and as far as possible. 


I came to Ohio in 1988 to teach at Muskingum College (now University). I spent eight years at the school, and learned an enormous amount about teaching creative writing and journalism, about deepening my craft, and about settling into a place. When I received tenure in my seventh year, however, something felt wrong. I was not ready to settle into this fixed identity, however much I might want to.


It would take lots of therapy, and study of yoga and meditation, and woodworking, to move into a deeper sense of storytelling. I also became primary caregiver of my son, Blake, as my wife, Michèle, ran her holistic chiropractic practice. I homeschooled my son using an organic unschooling philosophy, and learned more about how people thrive, and what holds them back. Technology was speeding up, and I found I could make films digitally on my computer. 


After several years of self-study, and incredible support from Michèle to buy expensive equipment, I found I could make documentary films, and this was something I loved to do. It was storytelling, and engagement with place. I’d been looking for direction, and it was suddenly clear to me: this was a service I could offer my community, to give voice to those whose voices are rarely lifted up. I formed Wild Iris Video. My first major project was to document the first year of an important project called the Newark Think Tank on Poverty. The resulting film was called Up River.


While working on that project, I crossed paths with Jack Shuler. Jack was creating a journalism program at Denison University that would emphasize the liberal arts, and narrative storytelling. He wanted it to have a strong multimedia component. He was also interested in telling local stories. We did some small projects together, shared notes a lot, and soon I was teaching at Denison. It was part time at first, which was fine with me, but the fit was so perfect, it quickly evolved into a full time position.


It’s hard to state what this relationship with Denison has meant to me and my work. The school and those in its community are incredibly supportive of creative work. Often that support comes in the practical form of financial support. I helped launch an online news source, The Reporting Project, which allows us to share faculty, community, and student work. Always the teacher, I have been able to mentor students again, something I have not been able to do since my Muskingum days. 


Mentoring is something I take seriously, and I always work hard at it. But when my wife died of cancer in 2021, and I shared that part of my story openly with colleagues and students, I discovered that it’s not always necessary to mentor from a place of invulnerable authority. In fact, when done from a place of vulnerability, the whole teaching/learning process opens up. And this was happening with my storytelling as well, especially as I moved into audio stories, which can accommodate more intimacy.


I’m writing this biography in mid-summer, 2023. I’ve just moved into a new house. I have a new relationship with a beautiful, caring, spontaneous woman, Tina. I’m getting my feet back under me. And I’m looking around for stories, stories with compelling characters who can show their vulnerabilities, who are taking strong action in a fragile world, who are moving through this world of pain and sorrow and exquisite beauty like it’s their first time in the place. 


When I’m there, in that moment, with that person, I keep saying over and over to myself, “Don’t forget to record!”


Doug Swift

Phone: 740 607 0240


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