Brian Swann

Professor Emeritus of Humanities

Brian Swann was born in Wallsend on Tyne, England, educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge (B.A., M.A.), graduating as Senior Scholar and Foundation Scholar with a Double First in the English Tripos while rowing for both college and university. He was awarded his PhD from Princeton where he was Proctor Fellow and Princeton National Fellow. He taught at Princeton and at Rutgers and was director of the Bennington Writing Workshops. Until his 2023 retirement, he was Professor of Humanities at the Cooper Union, where for a year he served as Acting Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

He has published in scores of magazines and journals, from e.g. Criticism, ELH (English Literary History), Nineteenth Century Fiction, and Novel, to e.g.  American Scholar, Harper’s, New Republic, The New Yorker,  Poetry, The Hudson Review, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, etc. His 14 poetry books include Autumn Road, (Ohio State University Press), Snow House (Pleiades Press),  In Late Light and Imago (both Johns Hopkins University Press), St Francis and the Flies (Autumn House Press), Companions, Analogies and Sunday out of Nowhere: New and Selected Poems (both Sheep Meadow Press).

He has also published an historical novel, Huskanaw (MadHat Press) and a number of collections of short fiction e.g. Dogs on the Roof, Not the Real Marilyn Monroe and Ya-Honk! Goes the Wild Gander: Covid Divagations (all MadHat Press). He has translated sixteen volumes of poetry e.g. The Collected Poems of Primo Levi, (Faber and Faber), Selected Poetry of Andrea Zanzotto,  Collected Poems of Lucio Piccolo,  The Dawn is Always New: Selected Poems of Rocco Scotellaro (all Princeton University Press).

He has also edited a number of volumes on Native American literature e.g. Smoothing the Ground and Recovering the Word (both University of California Press), Essays on the Translation of Native American Literatures (Smithsonian Institution Press), Song of the Sky: Versions of Native American Song-Poems (University of Massachusetts Press),  Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America, (Random House; paperback Vintage), Wearing the Morning Star: Native American Song-Poems, (Random House), Voices from Four Directions: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America, Algonquian Spirit: Contemporary Translations of the Algonquian Literatures of North America, Born in the Blood: On Native American Translation, and Sky Loom: Native American Myth, Story, Song, (all University of Nebraska Press).

He was editor of "The Smithsonian Series of Studies on Native American Literatures”, founder and editor of “The University of Nebraska Press Native Literatures of the Americas,” which in 2017 became “Native Literatures of the Americas and Indigenous World Literatures.” He is the author of a number of books for children, including A Basket Full of White Eggs (Orchard/ Franklin Watts), Touching the Distance: Native American Riddle-Poems, and The House With No Door: African Riddle-Poems (both Browndeer/Harcourt Brace).

His work has been widely anthologized and he has won a number of prizes, awards and fellowships. 

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  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.