F A C U L T Y /  S T A F F  Q & A

“CNR is a great place for students in no small part because of the intimacy of the environment. Because it is small, because you can know the names of so many of the people around you: faculty, students, and staff members. The atmosphere feels familial, which creates a sense of responsibility and engagement.”

Daniel B. Smith
Mary Ellen Donnelly Critchlow
Endowed Chair in English
The College of New Rochelle

Professor Smith, tell us a little about your background.
I grew up not far from New Rochelle, on the other side of the Long Island Sound, and studied English and Russian history in college. Afterward, I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t want to go to graduate school (I figured I could best learn how to write by getting out there and writing), so I got a job as a staff editor at The Atlantic Monthly.
        Being at the magazine taught me a great deal about a lot of things--reporting, writing, publishing, editing - and opened a lot of doors, and after a few years I thought I could make it on my own as a writer.
        I’ve been freelance ever since. Much of my work has been in the form of feature magazine articles, usually on topics related to psychology and mental health. I published my first book, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity, in 2007.

What will you be teaching next fall?
I’ll be teaching a writing workshop on creative nonfiction. In the class, we’ll be discussing both student work and published work, considering a number of aspects of literary craft--for example, point of view, physical description, and narrative logic. The published essays we’ll be reading will be by some of the modern masters of the form, including Virginia Woolf, Annie Dillard, and E.B. White.

Are you lecturing now?
I’m not lecturing this semester, but I’ve been giving open writing workshops and visiting classrooms, and I’ve been very impressed by the students, their energy and by the diversity of their interests. They seem to have a natural appreciation for the written word and what it can accomplish.

What will you be working on with your students?
I want the students who take my class to come away with a deeper understanding of what it takes to write prose that is strong and clear and effective--and also of the multitude of subjects to which the creative-nonfiction form lends itself. So we’ll be working our way not through genres but through topics of perennial interest: the natural world, womanhood, love, loss, faith, family.

Are your courses for anyone or
do you have to be studying creative writing?

They are for anyone who sincerely wants to work at their writing, who is willing to see writing as (at the risk of sounding like a football coach) an act requiring focus, dedication, and imaginative but clear thinking. They are for anyone who feels a little bit in love with what writing can do, or who wants to feel in love with what writing can do.

Why do you think CNR is a good place for students?
CNR is a great place for students in no small part because of the intimacy of the environment. Because it is small, because you can know the names of so many of the people around you: faculty, students, and staff members. The atmosphere feels familial, which creates a sense of responsibility and engagement.

What do you like best about your job?
As a writer I spend a lot of time alone, sitting at my desk in front of a blank page or screen. To have the opportunity to talk about literature and writing and ideas with young people whose eyes are still open to the world and what’s in it is a great gift.



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