Born and raised in Burlington, Ontario, the Canadian songwriter and performer, Ember Swift now resides in the magnetic city of Beijing, China. She has released 11 albums and 1 DVD project since 1996 and continues to have a loyal fan base across international borders. “11:11,” her 11th album, was aptly named because she released it in 2011 and was her most recent release until this year. She is poised to release her latest album, “Sticks & Stones,” this fall. Her latest album was five years in the making as a result of her other creative pursuit since 2012: parenting.
Ember speaks Mandarin and is a student of Chinese culture, so her music melds these two traditions. It features lyrics in Mandarin, English and French, with the arrangements featuring both Western and Eastern instrumentation such as the featured erhu in her band, a two-stringed traditional Chinese instrument that is considered the ‘Chinese violin.’
For the past three years, Ember pursued her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing from the City University of Hong Kong. In May of 2016, she completed the degree. The program was designed for people who write about Asia in English and was the only program of its kind in the world. Sadly, after a lot of activism and rallying, the program was discontinued by the university. The program’s graduates are among the few lucky ones to have experienced such a unique program in Asia. Through the process of completing her degree, Ember combined the content of three previous blogs into a larger, more demanding project: a memoir titled Back to the One.
About Back to the One:
When I first laid eyes on my husband, I thought he was the hottest woman I had ever seen.
Every author of every book ever written has thought of their work as being unique; yet the numbers of truly unique books published in any given year are few. Back to the One is a truly original memoir, both in the story it tells and the structure used to tell it.
As her biography indicates, Ember Swift is an experienced professional in both music and writing. She has combined these two forms in creating a memoir that literally has a song structure, explained within the book’s “Preamble”. Every one of the seven major chords in a do-re-mi scale is assigned a meaning with each one in turn linked to one of the seven narrative threads of Back to the One. Those seven themes or threads are explained in the detailed outline below.
The story of Back to the One can be encapsulated as follows: Fascinated by Chinese culture since childhood, at the age of 33 in 2007, Ember Swift went on a sabbatical break from her musical career (as well as her open lesbian relationship) to spend three months alone in Beijing. While she was there, in her words, Queer Canada met Straight China. On her second trip to the country, they fell in love. Queer Canada is Ember and Straight China is a male Chinese musician named Guo Jian.
Back to the One goes on to describe in vivid, lyrical detail (literally) how Ember’s relationship with Guo Jian prospered despite immense language and cultural barriers. There were difficulties. She experienced a backlash from former fans who did not accept what they called, sometimes in the harshest terms, an ‘abandonment’ of her Queer principles. As well, the vastly different perceptions of what it means to be a wife and mother in China caused tensions that ultimately led to a marital separation.
The values of reading Back to the One are many. There is material here to inform and entertain lovers of live music and the independent music industry, those interested in Chinese culture and the Mandarin language, the Queer ethic and politics of Queer community, and includes discussions of open relationships or polyamory. Ultimately, this memoir will inspire those with an adventurous spirit who are willing to take a chance in following a voice within one’s soul. Ember Swift went where it led her and tells us the tale with skill, humour and authenticity.
Ember Swift has had work published in the following anthologies:
Knocked Up Abroad (2015)
Other publication history (includes columns in the following magazines):
Ember’s work has also been published on the following websites:
(also contains samples of magazine work)
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