Alumni Spotlight
Michael Farris Smith

By: Belle Grace Wilkinson, PR student intern (with excerpts from Vision by Sarah Nicholas)

Michael Farris Smith Headshot

Michael Farris Smith received his Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a concentration in Public Relations in 1994 from Mississippi State University, and he received his master’s from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Smith grew up in McComb, Miss., but currently resides with his family in Oxford, Miss., where he works as a novelist and screenwriter. 

Smith broke into the writing scene as a big name in 2013 with the publication of his second book “Rivers.” His first book “The Hands of Strangers,” originally published in 2011, was a novella with a small press in North Carolina. 

“‘Rivers’ moved me into the bigger publishers, made best of the year lists, was reviewed everywhere. It really pushed me across the line,” he said. 

Smith’s most recent book “Salvage this World”—published April 2023 and released this spring in paperback—is an indirect return to the rain-soaked and hurricane-ridden world of “Rivers,” he said.

“I always thought I would return to ‘Rivers’ at some point. It has been 10 years and four novels in between ‘Rivers’ and ‘Salvage This World’ but I always felt the urge to write about the weather-ravaged South Mississippi landscape again. When the image of a young woman with a kid on her hip, staring at an approaching storm, got stuck in my head, I realized this was the time to do it.”

“The writing life and life as an artist is basically project-driven—you move from one thing to the next. So the study at MSU fit my personality, whether I knew it or not at the time,” said Smith, who stays connected to his Mississippi roots through local establishments.

To aspiring writers, both at MSU and beyond, Smith said, “You have to read a lot to learn how to do it, to learn how language feels and how stories are told. Then you have to try, and fail, over and over again until you get better, and then you have to keep going. Put down your phone. Watch and listen to the world. You can only find your voice in what you observe and how you feel about it all.”

Smith shares advice to undergraduate students considering attending graduate school.

“Get away from home and meet different people in a different place.”

What is the most important piece of information you learned in starting your career?
Don’t be afraid. 

What are you passionate about?
My family, my friends, my work.