Loomis Chaffee English Colloquium speaker Clint Smith read some of his poetry and discussed themes in his writing during an all-school address in the Olcott Center on Monday, April 15.
His visit to campus also included discussions with students and English teachers and an evening talk and book-signing event that was open to the public.
Mr. Smith's award-winning 2016 poetry collection, Counting Descent, has been described by reviewers as a "coming-of-age" story. The narrative unfolds in lyrical form from the author's perspective as a black man from New Orleans growing up in America.
Reading aloud from his work during the colloquium address, Mr. Smith touched on subjects that play large roles in his poetry and his life: family, historical racial injustice, immigration, and fatherhood. He also pointed to ways that his writing and his perspective on the world have changed since he started pursuing poetry at the age of 19. Poems, he said, can be like "time capsules" preserving a writer's thoughts from an earlier time and place.
After reading a poem about an undocumented immigrant girl who graduates from high school, Mr. Smith said his thinking about immigration has shifted since he wrote the poem in 2012. The girl in the poem is a straight-A student, and that detail reflects a popular narrative when he wrote the poem — that certain immigrants "deserve" to stay in this country more than others because of what they can contribute to American society.
But he said he realizes now that immigration "is not a transactional relationship." If he wrote the poem today, he said, he would leave out the part about the student having a 4.0 GPA.
Mr. Smith's subject matter also has evolved as he has grown older. "Dad poems are my new jam," he said. The father of a toddler and a seven-week-old baby, Mr. Smith shared a tender and humorous poem about his son's antics in his crib, seen from the perspective of Mr. Smith and his wife, who watched on the baby monitor in another room.
At the end of the convocation, Mr. Smith answered questions from the audience and later met with students and English faculty members in Gilchrist Auditorium. A public presentation and book-signing event took place in the Hubbard Performance Hall in the evening.
A recipient of fellowships from the Art for Justice Fund, Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the National Science Foundation, Mr. Smith's writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and the Harvard Educational Review, among others. Counting Descent won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He was named to the 2018 Forbes "30 Under 30" list as well as Ebony Magazine's 2017 "Power 100" list. His TED Talks, "The Danger of Silence" and "How to Raise a Black Son in America," have been viewed more than six million times. Mr. Smith, who is pursuing a doctorate at Harvard University, is a weekly contributor to the podcast "Pod Save the People" and is co-host of the podcast "Justice in America."
For more information, connect to Mr. Smith's website.
Mr. Smith's visit to campus for the English Colloquium was made possible with support from the Hubbard Speakers Series, a gift of Robert P. Hubbard '47, and from the Ralph M. Shulansky '45 Lecture Fund.