#AWP18 Featured Presenter Q&A with Maggie Smith

AWP | March 2018

Event Title: A Reading and Conversation with Ishion Hutchinson, Maggie Smith, and Virgil Suárez
Description: Join three critically-acclaimed poets in conversation. Ishion Hutchinson is the author of two poetry collections, Far District and House of Lords and Commons. He is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Writers Award, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, a Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship, and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets, among others. Maggie Smith is the author of Good Bones, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and Lamp of the Body. She is the winner of the Dorset Prize and the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in Poetry, the Benjamin Saltman Award, and a 2011 NEA fellow. Virgil Suárez is the author of over twenty five books of short fiction, poetry, memoir, and novels, including his most recent collection of poems, 90 Miles: Selected and New.
Participants: Ishion Hutchinson, Maggie Smith, Virgil Suárez
Location: Ballroom A & B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Friday, March 9, 8:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.


Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: At AWP I always wish I could be seven places at once. There are so many panels, readings, and offsite events packed into those few days. This year I’m really looking forward to a number of panels, including “From the Stanza to the Paragraph: Poets Who Write Prose” (with Jill BialoskyGregory Anthony PardloHarriet Millan, and Marilyn Chin); “Feminist Flash: Five Women Talk Flash Nonfiction” (with Nicole CooleyDaisy HernandezBeth Ann FennellyDawn Raffel, and Grace Talusan); and “Slam, Veer, Hush, and Hook: On Ending Poems” (with David BakerLinda GregersonStanley Plumly, and Ann Townsend). 

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: There were so many phenomenal poetry collections published this year, so I’ll name just a few: Ruth Awad’s Set to Music a Wildfire, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child, Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, and Marie Howe’s Magdalene. The amount of excellent poetry published this year, both in books and in journals, has been overwhelming. But in this case, too much of a good thing is a very, very good thing.

Q: What are a writer’s main responsibilities in this particular cultural moment?
A: I feel a responsibility not only to call out evil when I see it but also to focus energy on what is good and right in the world. What this looks like in practice will be different for everyone. I don’t believe that artists should feel obligated to make overtly political art right now, for example. Our main responsibility as humans in this particular cultural moment, it seems to me, is to work in our communities on the side of compassion, equality, and positive change. Our main responsibility as writers, though, is to write—to write, however we see fit, and to amplify one another’s voices.

Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: I’ve been fortunate to receive generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council, and these grants made a huge difference for me, both professionally and personally. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the NEA fellowship changed my life. At that time, I was working fulltime as an editor, squeezing all of my parenting and writing time in at night. My daughter was only two years old at the time and had been in fulltime daycare since she was twelve weeks old, when my (largely unpaid) maternity leave ended. Let’s be clear: $25,000 is not a lot of money to the federal government, but it was a great deal of money to me. It gave me the financial cushion and the courage to leave my day job and to start my own freelance business. The flexibility of freelance work meant that I could devote more time to poetry and to my family. I can’t say enough about public arts funding. It’s critical.


Maggie SmithMaggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, winner of the Dorset Prize and the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in Poetry; Lamp of the Body, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award; and Good Bones. She is also the author of three prizewinning chapbooks. Her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally, was called the “Official Poem of 2016” by the BBC/Public Radio International, and has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. Smith is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, among others.
(Photo Credit: Lauren Powers)

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