Two new visiting assistant professors now serve the creative writing program. “Dominic Smith and Paul Otremba are amazing writers and come to SMU highly recommended,” said David Haynes, director of SMU’s creative writing program. “We’re lucky they’ve both been able to join us at this time.”
Dominic Smith holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas and also serves on the faculty in the Warren Wilson College low-residency MFA program. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines. His debut novel, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, received the Steven Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. His second, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, was optioned by Southpaw Entertainment. His third, Bright and Distant Shores, is due out this spring.
Paul Otremba completed in May a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland. Otremba won scholarships for seven consecutive years, 2003 through 2009, to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He also received a Barthelme Memorial Fellowship, a Krakow Poetry Seminar Fellowship, and a Pushcart Prize Nomination. His poems and criticism have appeared online and in print in such places as The Washington Post and New England Review with more forthcoming in Literary Imagination, The Kenyon Review Online, and Cerise Press. His debut collection, The Currency, was published in 2009.
For Dominic Smith, what makes fiction compelling are the “surprising and somehow inevitable moments where the reader is thinking, ‘I wouldn’t have thought of it, but that strikes me as true.’”
Smith looks forward to helping students develop those provocative moments in their own writing. He advises new writers to explore their intellectual interests and write a story around them as he does. “I have them think about narratives in their everyday life that they’re excited by, engaged with,” he says, “then help them do what humanity is hardwired to do – try to make meaning of things.”
Smith left Australia at age nineteen to attend college in the US, studying Anthropology and Architecture before settling down as a writer. Of the series of things that led him to writing, Smith says, “There’s not so much a linear progression, but I’ve always had an interest in taking the deep dive and really understanding how something is put together.”
He dove deeply in researching his novel, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, and discovered his story in the average son of a genius physicist, surrounded by the world of physics, but asking questions that everyday people might ask.
In his new novel, Bright and Distant Shores, set for release this spring, he applies his knowledge of Architecture and Anthropology. Part of the novel takes place in 1890’s Melanesian culture, part during a Pacific voyage, and part set against a backdrop of Chicago skyscrapers. Anthropology, he explains, is very aware of “the other” and “the observer,” and the balance between the two is fiction writing.
“When I was an undergrad, I thought I would study Philosophy and do poetry on the side,” says Paul Otremba. “But when I found myself annotating my Kant and Derrida with lines of poems, I realized my focus was elsewhere.”
Otremba completed a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. “The critical work done in the creative PhD is different, but those were the conversations I wanted to be having,” he says. “My writing and teaching have benefitted.”
For students in his introductory course, his goal is to instill a solid understanding of the basic conventions and vocabulary for talking about poetry. “My hope with an intermediate class is that they start asking themselves why they’re making certain decisions and what will happen when they do,” he says.
Poets, he explains, have obsessions, and the obsessions in his collection, The Currency, ask what it is to engage the world and know the world. The title poem, he says, is obsessed with looking at the world and finding metaphors or situations that enact the recognition and misrecognition of experience.
As a poet, Otremba wants to be constantly challenging presumptions about what it means to be reading poems, and what it means to be a person in general. “If a poem is not contributing to that reevaluation of things, then perhaps it’s not taking risks. I’d like to make sure that I write what matters – in that qualified way.”
Yet, when people ask what he does for a living, he says, “I teach.” “There are certain assumptions about what a poet is or does. ‘I teach.’ Someone can imagine what that’s about. ‘I write poems.’ That’s a bit harder to imagine.”