Former NMU professor seen as one of U.P.’s top writers

Former NMU professor seen as one of U.P.’s top writers

Trinity Carey

An Italian soldier escapes from a Prisoner of War camp in Michi- gan’s Upper Peninsula… The premise of “Wolf’s Mouth,” chosen for the 2017 NMU and Marquette County “One Book, One Community,” offers a unique story that presents historical facts of the Upper Peninsula that are often unknown.

The author, John Smolens, is a former English professor at NMU who has written various novels based within the Upper Peninsula.

Smolens became a Yooper in 1995 when he was first hired at NMU. During his 19 years as a professor, Smolens taught mostly creative writing classes, which he sees as his passion.

“I went to Boston College as an undergraduate and majored in English. In those days there were not many creative writing classes, there was only one as a matter of fact, but I took that class and from that point on, I was really hooked,” Smolens said.

He discovered at a young age his love for reading short stories, novels and literature and wanted to make a contribution to the world of reading.

“There is a unique power in stories. I think this is probably one of the most essential ways human beings can communicate, by telling stories,” Smolens said.

Smolens has written 10 books thus far—nine novels and one collection of short stories. He is currently working on his 10th novel “Out,” which will be released this spring.

With age, Smolens picked up reading history, which he believes offers him new discoveries and stories of other people’s lives.

“I like going back in time. I spend a lot of time in the library reading old newspapers and magazines and finding maps and journals and diaries written by people in the U.P.,” Smolens said. “In some ways, I hope that a book like ‘Wolf’s Mouth’ will help those of us who live in the U.P. now connect with the previous generations.”

The landscape of the Upper Peninsula along with its history are obvious influences in “Wolf’s Mouth,” but writing the novel also allowed Smolens to explore U.S. history through its main character.

“I’m drawn to his character, because in order for him to survive he has to completely alter his personality,” Smolens said. “To do so, he really has to study how Americans behave, and I find that to be a great vehicle toward examining who we are as a people, through him.”

Smolens hopes those with an interest in writing fiction will persist, no matter the frustrations they may face as a writer.

“If you really have a story you want to tell, then you have to be persistent and keep trying, which is easier said than done,” Smolens said with a chuckle.