Most of us listen to music on our iPods while exercising, walking the dog, housecleaning, and other less cerebral activities. Not Maggie Smith. The 1999 OWU alumna gets most of her serious poetry writing—Smith’s passion since her high school years—done during her lunch hours at work, tuned into whatever is on her iPod. It is an environment that apparently is providing just the right kind of creative stimulus for Smith, who recently was awarded a $25,000 Creative Writing Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). She is one of only 42 poets chosen from among more than 1,000 applicants from across the country, and the only Ohio poet to be awarded a fellowship. Smith won the fellowship based on the artistic merit of poems from a book manuscript, tentatively titled Hush Now. Poems from the manuscript have been published in top national literary magazines including The Gettysburg Review, The Paris Review, Indiana Review, and Florida Review. She is still pinching herself to make sure this award is “real.”
“Receiving an NEA Fellowship at this stage of my career is incredibly exciting,” says Smith, who majored in English with a concentration in creative writing at OWU. “This grant is a gift of freedom and time to write, but perhaps more importantly, it is a tangible form of encouragement that tells me what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. That’s priceless.” The two-year fellowship is, however, the most recent in a long line of grants received by Smith, including three Individual Artist Awards from the Ohio Arts Council. But the Columbus, Ohio native is focused on more than awards and remembers several Ohio Wesleyan professors whose support and good advice have been integral to Smith’s career success.
“Lynette Carpenter was my advisor who reached out and helped me get involved with OWU’s literary magazine and offered the kind of personal attention often found at smaller schools,” says Smith. But it was another professor, Bob Flanagan who taught her to trust her instincts, and allow her poems to go to strange places.
“You can’t always describe where an idea comes from,” says Smith, who thanks her professors for their support, especially as Smith decided to pursue (and attain) an M.F.A. in Poetry at The Ohio State University. She then moved on to teach creative writing for nine months at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. But Smith’s love for Ohio drew her back to Columbus, where she and her husband and young daughter now live. Smith works at an educational publishing company at which she prepares teaching materials for elementary school teachers.
“I go home after work to be with my family, but between loads of laundry and nap times, I write,” says Smith. As for her fellowship plans, she is still considering some options, but hopes to apply for writing residencies, and may remodel an area of her home into a [writing] studio.
“All of this [success] shows that you can stay in your hometown and do great things!”
Visit Maggie Smith’s Web site to see several of her poems.