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Earl Swift (BA '83)

Earl Swift’s love affair with the University of Missouri-St. Louis began on his first day as a freshman in the fall of 1976, when he walked into the offices of the university’s student newspaper, The Current, and walked out with a story assignment.

When he graduated seven years later, he had a degree in political science, had served as the paper’s editor and two terms as student body vice president and was embarking on a remarkable career in journalism.

Swift went on to report for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and Alaska’s Anchorage Times before spending more than 21 years as a reporter, editor, columnist and longform writer for the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk. His assignments sent him on adventures all over the world – to Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, the Mediterranean, the Bering Sea, and most of the 50 states – and, as a Fulbright fellow, to New Zealand.

earl swift

“I’ve been fortunate to have great teachers, every step of the way,” he said. “Any success I’ve enjoyed has been their doing as much as mine. And that good fortune began at Kirkwood High School and, most especially, at UMSL.”

He’s also through-hiked the Appalachian Trail and paddled 700 miles around the Chesapeake Bay in a sea kayak.

Shifting to books in the early 2000s, Swift has penned eight critically acclaimed nonfiction narratives on subjects ranging from the American Dream to lunar exploration. His 2018 book, Chesapeake Requiem, was a New York Times Best Seller, and over the years his editors have nominated him twice for a National Book Award, twice for a National Magazine Award and seven times for a Pulitzer Prize.

His ninth book, Hell Put to Shame – about a 1921 mass murder that illuminated the persistence of slavery generations after the Civil War – will be published by HarperCollins in April 2024.