William Woods professor publishes on Patti Smith

Dr. Greg Smith
Dr. Greg Smith

Dr. Greg Smith, a William Woods University professor, has written a chapter on iconic American rock musician, author, artist and National Book Award winner Patti Smith for an upcoming textbook.

Smith, associate professor of English, was commissioned to contribute a chapter on Smith for the revised edition of the six-volume textbook, “Critical Survey of American Literature,” issued by Salem Press and Grey House Publishing in New York.

“Patti Smith showcases the flexibility and vitality of American art through her mix of uncompromising poetry and confrontational rock and roll, and has paved the way for the serious academic study of pop music,” says the WWU professor.

“She has a very practical and pragmatic look about this world. But she also is an intellectual, which is a very interesting dynamic to me. Her ability to recognize continuity and value among apparently disparate art forms is one aspect of her work and personality that drew me to her initially: she loved literature and rock music equally… and so did I, so I saw her as a kindred spirit.”

The textbook, slated for publication in November, is a six-volume text that offers in-depth essays on noted American and Canadian literary figures. It is designed for both students and researchers, and this is the first time it has been updated since 2005.

“Critical Survey of American Literature” book cover
“Critical Survey of American Literature” book cover

Patti Smith became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses. Called the “punk poet laureate,” Smith fused rock and poetry in her work. Her most widely known song is “Because the Night,” which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen. The song reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978.

In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010, she won the National Book Award for her memoir “Just Kids” and was listed in 47th place in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Artists. She is also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.

Greg Smith was introduced to the artist at a young age. “I remember being in high school and hearing her music for the first time. It was her Easter album. At first, I didn’t even realize she was a writer — I just encountered her through listening to rock music on the radio.”

His first article on Patti Smith grew out of a term paper he wrote for a class focused on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson during graduate school at Western Michigan University. His piece, “And All The Sinners, Saints: Patti Smith, Pioneer Musician and Poet,” appeared in the Winter 2000 edition of The Midwest Quarterly academic journal.

Patti Smith
Patti Smith

“At that point, Smith was more of a fringe figure in the literary world than she is now, and I argued for her importance as a revolutionary writer whose contribution to American letters — like that of Dickinson — is singularly compelling.”

Smith’s new piece on Patti Smith is an original research article and argumentative defense of her career and major works that situates her within the broader historical, aesthetic and philosophical contexts of American literature and music.

“If students or researchers want to get a sense of who Smith is and why she’s considered an important figure in American art, my article should be able to help them understand what she’s all about,” he said.

The chapter includes a comprehensive biography, an extensive analytical section contextualizing and highlighting the aesthetic and thematic properties of her work, and a series of brief, close readings of representative works, including prose, poetry, and lyrics.

“Smith is a first-time inclusion in this edition of the Survey,” Greg Smith said, “so it is both exciting and daunting to participate in the canonization process for a figure whose importance I originally supported over 15 years ago.”