What’s in an apostrophe? The Sewanee view on S’wanee

By Lily Davenport


The storm struck without warning, carving a swath through the startled masses. Some reacted with disbelief, some with anger, and some with mild amusement. On Nov. 27, 2012, Don Winston’s first novel, entitled S’wanee: A Paranoid Thriller, hit Amazon.

A description on the author’s Goodreads page characterizes the novel as “a coming-of-age, paranoid thriller in the vein of Ira Levin… weav[ing] psychological suspense with dark humor in its brutal descent to a shocking climax.” The story follows Cody, a high school senior recruited by what appears to be his dream school. As what Winston terms the “semester of death” progresses, however, Cody discovers that S’wanee is not the benign campus depicted in all those glossy brochures.

Although Winston is not a Sewanee graduate, he has plenty of experience with the school; as a child growing up in Nashville, he visited the Domain frequently, and knew many high-school classmates who went on to attend the University. Even after he moved to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter, Winston’s fascination with Sewanee remained. The University stood out for him as “magical… sort of a heavenly place.” Eventually, Winston determined to create a thriller, set in a college loosely based on Sewanee, and discovered that the story “would make a better novel than a screenplay.” In the author’s note accompanying the novel, Winston explained that “a realm this magical and spellbinding and perfect demands a doppelganger––an evil twin, if you will––just to keep the world in balance.”

So, you may ask, what’s the difference? S’wanee shares many of the University’s key features: the Honor Code, Sewanee Fog, Morgan’s Steep, and even the Purple appears at some point. But other aspects of the school diverge widely from reality; for instance, Cody inhabits, not Quintard or Trez, but Rebel’s Rest. (Not to mention the novel’s body count.)

The e-reader-less curious about further differences between S’wanee and Sewanee will have to wait, but not for long. The novel, which was initially released for Kindle, will be released in print in late March. Contrary to the Facebook meme featuring “O’ford,” “H’ravard,” and “P’oenix,” Winston’s next novels do not concern universities. The first, currently undergoing editing and titled The Union Club, focuses on a private club in San Francisco. The second, as yet untitled, involves “a very twisted version of Glee.”

Why S’wanee? Ultimately, Winston calls his novel “a love letter,” adding, “I am a lifelong, devoted fan of Sewanee.”