The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Michael Farris Smith reads from debut novel “Rivers”

Michael Farris Smith | Courtesy Photo

Michael Farris Smith, MSU alumnus and current professor of English at MUW, reads from his debut novel “Rivers” Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in McCool Hall’s Rogers Auditorium. Smith’s novel imagines an apocalyptic Mississippi where hurricanes, like Hurricane Katrina, continue to incessantly batter and change the Gulf Coast.

Michael Farris Smith, a Mississippi State University alumnus from Magnolia, Miss., teaches English at Mississippi University for Women but has traveled far beyond the Magnolia state. Smith lived in and traveled throughout Western Europe working with the National Basketball Association, currently plays guitar for the band Wild Magnolias and is a successful novelist. 

Smith will read in McCool Hall’s Rogers Auditorium Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. He will read from his work and sign books after the reading.

Smith said he never chose to pursue writing, but writing instead became inevitable for him.

“I don’t think being a writer is something you just decide to do,” he said. “But I think it seeps into you gradually over time to the point where you can’t ignore it anymore.”

During his three and a half years in western Europe, Smith said he began to love to read, and he read more and more. He first picked up books with names he recognized and, as a result, fell in love with Hemingway. Smith traveled in Spain and Paris at the time and said he could relate to Hemingway’s direct writing style. 

He later remembers the first time he read Mississippi author Larry Brown, his major influence, and could really understand Brown’s characters. In an interview with his publishing company, Simon & Schuster, Smith said he knew the people in Brown’s books and could understand the Mississippi Brown wrote about. This was the first time Smith wondered if he could do the same thing. 

After the events he worked for in Europe lost sponsorship, Smith said he decided to try writing instead of pursuing sports marketing. He attended University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers and, as he told “Catfish Alley” magazine, his time studying abroad in France inspired him to write. He wrote his highly-praised debut novella, “The Hands of Strangers,” after he saw a missing child poster in France.

Smith’s writing took a turn after Hurricane Katrina hit. He said the tragedy deeply affected him, and, as hard as he worked to produce a post-Katrina novel, he said he could not do the aftermath justice due to his emotional investment in the disaster. Then a new idea hit him.

“The idea for “Rivers” came about as a result of the emotional resonance I felt for my home state in the years following Katrina,” Smith said. “I’m from South Mississippi and had a lot of friends and family in both Mississippi and Louisiana greatly affected by the storm. At the time I was trying to break away from short stories into novels, and I just felt like I wanted to write a hurricane novel. But the more I thought about it, it occurred to me — why not write the hurricane novel? A story where they never end? Where the Gulf Coast is nothing more than a wet, floating wasteland? Why not go all the way?”

His novel “Rivers,” a story of post-Katrina Mississippi, hit shelves this September. The novel honors the people Katrina affected, while it creatively imagines what would happen if hurricanes continued to hit and if Mississippi became an apocalyptic wasteland. Smith’s debut novel made an impression on more than just Mississippians who can relate to the horrors of the storm. Anne Korkeakivi, author of “An Unexpected Guest,” wrote a glowing review of the novel displayed on Smith’s website. 

“Take an environmental apocalypse, blow in the cadences of Ernest Hemingway and the vision of Cormac McCarthy, sweeten it with humanity, add a Southern twang, and you might get something close to ‘Rivers.’ Smith’s debut novel is not only a great read; it’s a significant one,” she said in the review.

Smith incorporates fantastical apocalyptic events but keeps the essence of the South.

Michael Kardos, fiction writer and co-director of  MSU’s Creative Writing program, has known Smith for several years and said he is not surprised “Rivers” receives enthusiastic critical praise.

“‘Rivers,’ like all the writing I’ve seen from Michael Smith, is gritty and emotional and intense and full of heart,” Kardos said. “It’s an apocalyptic Southern road novel that’s suspenseful and surprising. I can’t wait to read his next one.”

Smith said he is proud to be a writer from Mississippi, which is a state full of rich literary history with its own distinct resonance. In his career of writing essays, short stories and now, a novel, Smith was awarded the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, the Transatlantic Review Award for Fiction, the Alabama Arts Council Fellowship Award for Literature and the Brick Streets Press Short Story Award. 

Based on his list of accolades so far, it seems Smith’s accomplishments follow the pattern of the hurricanes in “Rivers” — the stellar work, awards and praise just keep coming.

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Michael Farris Smith reads from debut novel “Rivers”