Local Author Barbara Smith Releases Poetry Book

Local Author Barbara Smith Releases Poetry Book

ROCK SPRINGS — Barbara Smith, author of a newly released collection of poetry, Putting a Name on It, will be featured at a Book Release party on Friday, April 22.

Fittingly, the event will take place at Western Wyoming Community College (Western), where Smith taught for 38 years. The party will begin at 7 p.m. in Room 1302 on the Rock Springs campus, and is free and open to the public.

The book, Smith’s first full-length poetry collection, was published by Deep Wild Press. In it, she offers richly imagined stories of pioneers past and present who have made their home in the high plains of the West, including her own multigenerational family. She also writes of her contemporary experiences, first coming to Rock Springs in 1969 as a young teacher, and then raising her family and making her home there.  

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Smith has lived the boom and bust of the American West. When she came to Rock Springs it was, she says, “a friendly immigrant mining community. Then the boom hit.” She writes about these times of rapid change and the effects it has on people.  

Smith is the granddaughter of Norwegian homesteaders and daughter of Great Depression parents, all of whom kept moving West looking for better lives, like many still do today. Their stories inform her writing.

“The stories my immigrant grandparents told of their pioneer days, struggling and living in the harsh West, and stories my parents told of growing up during the Depression inspired me as a youth. These stories we tell connect us and enable us to better understand our similarities and differences, our various cultures, generations, and places where we find ourselves,” Smith said.  

“I began to write with more intensity when I saw a connection between the stories of my ancestors, my own life, and those of the new pioneers coming to this boom-and-bust town where I lived,” Smith said. “As a new mother raising a family apart from the extended family I grew up in, in a world torn apart from the familiar, I could really relate to the isolation and challenges pioneer women faced. I felt that we were sisters. In our own ways, we were all trying to make a life in harsh surroundings during turbulent, changing times. That convergence of stories has remained a major theme in my writing.”  

Smith has received recognition for her writing over the years. In 2008, she received the Neltje Blanchan Memorial Writing award for Nature Writing, sponsored by the Wyoming Arts Council and funded by artist and arts patron Neltje. In 2006, she received the Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award for her contributions in support of the arts in Sweetwater County as well as for her own writing. She also received the Wyoming Arts Council Literary Fellowship in 1990 and an artist’s residency from the Ucross Foundation. 

Her poetry and essays have been published in numerous collections, including Wyoming Fence Lines; Deep West, A Literary Tour of Wyoming; and the three-book series, Leaning Into the Wind, Woven on the Wind, and Crazy Woman Creek. Other publications include the Montana anthology, The Last Best Place; Ucross: the First Ten Years; Letter from Wyoming; Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone; and Drive, He Said, an anthology about Americans and their cars. 

Smith is Professor Emeritus at Western, retiring in 2007. She taught English, journalism, and creative writing at Western, also serving as chair of the Humanities Division for 17 years. While at Western, she directed the Wesswick Lecture Series in the Arts and Education, bringing almost 100 visiting writers to campus to give readings and workshops for students and members of the community. 

In retirement, Smith continues to teach a memoir writing workshop in collaboration with Western and the Young at Heart Senior Center.

“I believe that it’s important for people growing up and living in the American West to write their stories, leaving a record of the true history of this place in their own words,” Smith said.

A book signing will follow the reading. Refreshments will be served.