NMU English Professor named Michigan Author of the Year

John Berry

In November, English professor John Smolens will be awarded the Michigan Author Award. Which the Michigan Library Association presents every year. Smolens has been a novelist for the past 14 years and has had various short stories and essays published in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and Writer’s Digest.

“John was chosen as our winner for many reasons. We found his skillful depiction of life in the Upper Peninsula and his description of the natural beauty of our state to be outstanding,” said Michigan Library Association Award Committee member Anne Kabel.

The Michigan Library Association’s decision to award Smolens was the result of his collective work, Smolens said. The author has published seven novels, three of which are set in Michigan. One of them, “Cold,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2004, The Detroit Free Press chose his book “Fire Point” as best book by a Michigan author.

Daydreaming during youth, according to Smolens, was one of the things that made him start writing.

“Since I was a kid I’ve had stories going on in my mind,” Smolens said. “In my late teens I started writing some of these stories down.”

While Smolens admits to deep thinking being a catalyst to his writing, he is wary of the idea of inspiration.

“I’m suspicious of notions about inspiration, because they suggest that there’s some oracular presence involved in writing a story. (Author) John Cheever said he wrote in an attempt to make some order out of the chaos of daily life. That’s good enough for me.”

Some critics have labeled Smolen’s books as thrillers. It’s a term that the author tries to avoid when it comes to labeling his work.

“I don’t really like the term thriller.  I find the word sometimes suggestive that there’s going to be car chases and burning buildings and a lot of gunfire,” Smolens said.

Last December, Smolens released his latest book, “The Anarchist.” It’s a book that mixes fiction with actual historical events, Smolens said. Recently he has been traveling throughout Michigan to conduct public readings of the novel. He splits his time between promoting and teaching an upper level English course, Genres in Writing: Creating History, once a week.

Smolens is a winner of the Peter White Scholar program, which is intended to support faculty who have proven a scholarly record, such as Smolens, said English Department Head Ray Ventre.

“This gives him opportunity to travel, to do readings, but also to do research for his next book,” Venture said.

The award ceremony is being held Nov. 12 at the Michigan Author Award luncheon in Traverse City, Michigan.

Smolens didn’t expect to win this award, but is very grateful that he has.

“I never thought such a thing would happen,” Smolens said. “That’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise. As a boy I played hockey, and naturally I had this ridiculous dream of one day winning the Stanley Cup. That was a boy’s dream. This is better.”