Home » The Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame honors Mary Swander

The Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame honors Mary Swander

The Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame recognized Mary Swander recently by naming her as one of the four honorees for 2022. The awards ceremony was held Saturday, August 27 at the Des Moines Playhouse.

Mary Swander is an author, playwright, storyteller, educator and musician. She serves as executive director of AgArts and Swander Woman Productions.


  • Mary Swander and her troupe of actors are consummate professionals. – Keri Smith-Norman, Mayo Clinic
  • An extraordinary biography. Ms. Swander artfully recounts Dr. Nick’s courageous journey. – Raphaela Sabino, nurse, speaking about Mary’s book, The Maverick M.D.
  • Mary Swander has given so much to the Midwest for so many years in so many different capacities — Iowa Poet Laureate, visionary of Swander Woman Productions, executive director of AgArts, and much more. We all look forward to more great things coming out of her fertile mind and considerable talent. – Jonathan Andelson, Center for Prairie Studies, Grinnell College
  • We have appreciated the powerfulness of Mary Swander’s work when we’ve brought her plays, Vang and Map of My Kingdom, to Nebraska. They are both thought-provoking and provocative, yet unassuming and relatable. That is the beauty of Mary’s work and makes it so relevant to these times. – Sandra Renner, farm & community program director, Center for Rural Affairs
  • Mary has had a way of letting me know that she believes in me and my writing. She encourages me to trust myself and believe that what I have to say has value. I appreciate her talent for seeing through complexity to the absolute core of meaning in my writing. Mary gives freely of herself, her expertise, her resources, her experience. But she does not give unconditionally. She expects me to produce. I am grateful. – Susan M. Strawn, memoir student and author of Loopy: Stories of a Knitting Life, a Memoir
  • I want to thank Mary Swander for providing such a cool program in AgArts.  From my hosts’ generously sharing all on their farmstead to connecting me with fascinating people and places, my time in Nebraska was stimulating and rich. I am grateful beyond measure for this opportunity. – Karen Downing, AgArts artist-in-residence
  • Mary’s craftful storytelling is helping us work toward a better food and farm system in Iowa. – Sally Worley, executive director, Practical Farmers of Iowa
  • I took a class from Mary Swander at ISU which led me to pursue an MFA. I loved her! If not for her, I would not be sitting here. – Mark Munger, general manager, Siouxland Public Media

To highlight women’s heritage and recognize their contributions, the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW) established the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1975. Each year the ICSW and the Governor welcome four women into the Hall of Fame, paying tribute to them and setting them forth as role models for others. As of 2021, 188 women had been inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame and 33 individuals were awarded the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice.

In addition to Mary Swander, 2022 Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame honorees are Laurie Schipper, Des Moines; Mary Richards, Ames; and Elizabeth Bates Cowles, who lived in Des Moines. The 2022 Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice recipient is The Honorable Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines, member of the Iowa House of Representatives since 2007. Read about the honorees in The Des Moines Register here.


Mary Swander’s bio

Mary Swander is the Executive Director of AgArts, a nonprofit designed to imagine and promote healthy food systems through the arts. She hosts the podcast “AgArts from Horse & Buggy Land” that highlights the Amish, sustainability and rural life. 

Swander’s most recent play, Squatters on Red Earth, about the white settler land grab from the Native Americans, will go on the road this summer.  Her latest book is The Maverick M.D.: Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez and His Fight for a New Treatment for Cancer (New Spring Press).

Swander has established residencies for artists on farms throughout Iowa and around the U.S., and she has hosted numerous international artists, touring them throughout the state.

The former Poet Laureate of Iowa, Swander is an award-winning author who has been given grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Whiting Foundation. She has published scores of books of poetry and nonfiction as well as essays, magazine articles, individual poems and radio commentaries in such places as National Public Radio, The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, and Poetry Magazine. She is best known for her poetry book Driving the Body Back and for her memoirs Out of this World and The Desert Pilgrim. 

An emerita Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Swander taught creative writing for thirty years at Iowa State University and was a visiting writer-in-residence at Interlochen Arts Academy, the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Alabama.  She now gives online workshops on poetry, nonfiction and playwriting, as well as farmland transition, for other colleges and universities and nonprofit organizations. She received her own M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

The Artistic Director of Swander Woman Productions, Swander has performed her dramas from coast-to-coast in venues that include farmers’ barns to New York University, The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, The Mayo Clinic, and the Idaho Wine Commission. Her touring productions are The Girls on the Roof, an adaptation of her poetry book with the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre; Vang, a play about recent immigrant farmers; Map of my Kingdom, a play about farmland transition; and Farm-to-Fork Tales, a storytelling performance.

Mary is now a member of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Read her first submission here.

Mary Swander also gives solo performances of her own work, playing the banjo, the harmonica and the spoons. She has dual U.S./Irish citizenship and has taught in Ireland many summers. The rest of the year, she lives in a former Amish one-room schoolhouse near Kalona, raises goats and has a large organic garden where she grows most of her own food.