Bulldog alum pens ‘Rivers’

From teaching to writing, Michael Farris Smith of Columbus is one creative Bulldog.

The 1994 Mississippi State alumnus recently went on sabbatical from teaching creative writing at Mississippi University for Women to promote his book, “Rivers,” published by Simon & Schuster.
Mississippi State remains a special place for Smith, and he appreciates the opportunities he had there, he said.

“State gave me the chance to make great friends and to be free and try to figure out what I was going to do and where I was going to do it,” he said.

Though writing is his central focus these days, when Smith graduated with his communication degree in public relations, he had no idea he would become a writer, he said. However, he did already know that he enjoyed being creative.

“The communication department did appeal to my personality,” he said. “The classes and assignments were project-driven. I liked being asked to come up with new ideas and then figure out how to make them visually striking or how to make words fit together to give a project the most appeal. It was a creative outlet.”

However, when graduation came, Smith felt restless, and he said that same restlessness finds its way into his books. “Rivers” is no exception. Set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, “Rivers” explores how one man deals with losing everything he valued.

“The idea of a normal life has become a lost memory for the characters, and all they know is survival. It’s a day-to-day, even a moment-to-moment thing,” Smith said.

His book was welcomed by critics: Indiebound listed “Rivers” on its September 2013 Indie Next List; Goodreads named it to the Movers & Shakers List; and Library Journal listed it as a Hot Debut. Additionally, Esquire, Kirkus Reviews, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The New York Times and gave the book favorable reviews.

Smith said the positive feedback is “inspiring and rewarding and humbling.” In fact, “Rivers” has done so well, Simon & Schuster requested Smith write a prequel to be launched as an e-book, and he is developing ideas for a screenplay with Silver Lake Entertainment.

“It’s impossible to become a good writer without being a good reader. But I would add one thing, and that’s be curious,” he said.

“I think you have to be curious about the craft and willing to talk to others or read interviews with others who have had success.”

By Leah Barbour, Photography by Beth Wynn

“It’s impossible to become a good writer without being a good reader. But I would add one thing, and that’s be curious.” Michael Farris Smith