Carolyn Smart talks retirement & legacy

Long-time creative writing professor remains connected to Queen’s

Smart was known for her honesty and insight.
Credit: 
Supplied by Carolyn Smart

At the end of the 2020-21 year, longtime creative writing professor Carolyn Smart retired from teaching to focus on her family and personal work.

Smart’s legacy as a mentor is impressive. She taught and inspired hundreds of writers in her time, including current Queen’s Writer-in-Residence Omar El Akkad. Iain Reid, author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Foe, also studied under Smart.

The Journal caught up with Smart to discuss her life after Queen’s and reflect on her decades of teaching creating writing.

“[Life after teaching] is pretty different,” Smart said in an interview.

“To a certain degree, I was anxious about how I’d feel after 32 years of teaching. The students always gave me so much. I always enjoyed the in-person repartee and familiarity I was able to gain with students.”

Smart taught all her classes online during her final year at Queen’s due to the circumstances of the pandemic.

“It was a nice way of pulling back from that. I don’t feel entirely shocked about no longer being in the presence of 20 fabulous students twice a week.”

Unsurprisingly, Smart, 69, has kept up with many former students. She remains involved and invested in their writing journeys.

On why she left, Smart said she “felt it was time for a younger person to take over [her] job.”

“As much as I loved it, and as much as I still love working with emerging writers, I just knew I needed some time to get back to my own writing, which I had definitely put on the back-burner.”

Right now, Smart is working on poetry after persevering through a drought. 

“This was a tough one to break through. [I’m] once again becoming familiar with working my way into language and not self-censoring, which I think is key.”

While other schools’ writing programs are often held in higher regard, Smart believes Queen’s has long been a producer of high-quality writers.

El Akkad recently won the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel What Strange Paradise. The most recent Governor General’s Award shortlist also featured three Queen’s graduates: Liselle Sambury, Brittany Luby, and Sheun-King.

“I think it has been a secret in plain sight: for as many as years as I have been associated with Queen’s, there have been extremely high-quality students,” Smart said.

Smart believes Queen’s academic culture motivates many of its creatives.

“Queen’s, as we know, is a really top-level university. It draws really driven students. On the whole, it has not been a university that deeply values the arts, but I believe that is beginning to change with a great recognition of the creativity on campus.”

When asked about the future of Queen’s, Smart said she hopes creative writing will eventually have its own department separate from English entirely. It would allow more students to get involved in the classes and provide the option to minor in the subject.

“That was my dream. It may or may not [happen], but I certainly hope English will continue to support creative writing to the degree they have for the last couple of years.”

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