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Iowa Poet Laureate’s play performs in Grinnell

Swander’s play is centered around a lawyer mediating a conflict regarding land transaction. Photo contributed.
Swander’s play is centered around a lawyer mediating a conflict regarding land transaction. Photo contributed.

The Grinnell Area Arts Council will host Iowa Poet Laureate Mary Swander’s one-woman play “Map of My Kingdom” this Friday, Nov. 14 at the Loft Theatre. The play is directed by Matt Foss, Professor of Acting and Theatre History at the University of Idaho.

The play is centered around character Angela Martin, portrayed by Ames-based actress Madeleine Russell, a lawyer involved in mediating familial conflicts on the issue of land transaction. She shares the stories of the farmers and families she has worked with, discussing both positive outcomes and ones fraught with tension and discord.

“This is a really current topic in the U.S. now because we are now seeing the largest transfer of wealth from one generation to another. Baby boomers are reaching retirement, and not only money but assets are being passed on,” said Christian Lutz, Executive Director of the Grinnell Area Arts Council.

“Obviously, the predominance of the agricultural industry in Iowa resonates with issue of land transfer,” Lutz said of the decision to bring “Map of My Kingdom” to Grinnell.

Swander, Iowa’s Poet Laureate and Professor of English and Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts at Iowa State University, was commissioned by Practical Farmers of Iowa to write a piece on land transfer. Practical Farmers is a nonprofit organization composed of a diverse network of farmers all dedicated to reaching agricultural sustainability.

“I’ve been a member of the Practical Farmers of Iowa for a long time so our visions dovetail together. In terms of land transition, I’ve seen four generations of my own family go through that,” Swander said of the ease of the partnership.

Swander and Foss have collaborated in the past, and she is confident that their partnership on this project will pose some powerful existential questions for the audience.

“The play raises the question: Who owns the land? Can we even have ownership of the Earth? Within the system we’ve set up for ourselves of land ownership, how do we pass that land on responsibly?” Swander said.

Swander is confident that “Map of My Kingdom” will resonate not just with landowners or farmers, because the play faces questions of ownership and legacy that are relevant to everyone.

“Even if you don’t own land, you probably own something. There’s that same question,” she said.

“Ultimately, [the issue of land transfer] is about facing your own mortality,” Swander said.

The play will run for only one night. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $5 at the Grinnell Arts Center, McNally’s and Brown’s Shoe Fit.

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