Written by Jenni Harris
Photographed by Cameron Ohls
So Sarn Douthern— that was Shelby Swing’s answer when I asked her what she might one day title her autobiography. She laughed and explained the reference, a dinner party where she accidentally mixed up the first consonants of “darn” and “southern,” instead exclaiming the above phrase in front of friends and friends’ family members alike. “They still make fun of me for it… I’m always mispronouncing things.”
However, while Shelby jokingly admits that she often “says all the wrong things at all the right times,” her affinity for language and storytelling do more than make up for it. A writer since her middle school days, she was an avid keeper of journals and even dabbled in the art of book review up until she transferred into Anderson during the spring of her sophomore year as a creative writing major. She came in expecting to specialize in fiction, but after taking a creative nonfiction class last fall, Shelby found her niche in a different area. “Now [nonfiction] is the genre I feel most comfortable with, the one I feel the strongest in,” she said. As the author of three nonfiction pieces in this year’s journal, I think it’s safe to say that there’s truth in that.
Most of Shelby’s nonfiction is inspired by her family, a fact she attributes to the close-knit nature of her homeschooled education in Waxhaw, North Carolina. “We all spent a lot of time together,” she noted, “and I was always taught to value family.” Looking toward the work of Jo Ann Beard and David Sedaris, two authors who have tackled themes of family with delicacy and hilarity in their own nonfiction writing, Shelby hopes to approach her subjects in a similar way.
She calls this “a lesson in sensitivity,” a balancing act to maintain honesty, integrity, and her own sense of humor. “I think as English majors, we’re taught to be critical,” she said, “…but if my writing could accomplish anything, I hope that it would help people to see others without judgment.” And knowing this is something that she herself sometimes struggles to do ultimately helps her to identify what’s important— what’s worth writing about. In her opinion, some of the best things to discuss aren’t abstract emotions or cosmic questions; they’re as ordinary as family and compassion.
As far as future plans, Shelby would like to eventually work in the publishing industry. She would like to travel a little bit. She might even like to move as long as it’s not to anywhere too dreary. But wherever she may be, let us all hope that we have the privilege of crossing paths with her yet again so we can get our own autographed copies of So Sarn Douthern and hear about how we can all have a little more grace for others and a little more grace for ourselves when we end up saying all the wrong things at all the right times.