January 11, 2012
DALLAS (SMU) — Bright and Distant Shores, a new historical novel from visiting SMU creative writing professor Dominic Smith, is drawing accolades for its ambitious portrayal of 19th century America and tribal Pacific culture, with a style reviewers are comparing to epic works of E.L. Doctorow, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Publisher’s Weekly praises the book as “an absorbing exploration of culture, tradition and renewal.” Kirkus Reviews calls it “extraordinary literary grace” and one of the “Best Books of 2011.” And in Smith’s native Australia, it was shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year and the Vance Palmer Prize, two of the country’s foremost literary awards.
Smith's novel is the third book from SMU creative writing professors in recent months. Professor C. W. Smith's new book is Steplings and Professor Emeritus Marshall Terry is the author of Loving U.
Bright and Distant Shores (Washington Square Press) is set in the waning years of the 19th century, when the hunger for tribal artifacts spawned collecting voyages on behalf of museums and collectors around the globe. In a quest to out-best others, Chicago insurance magnate Hale Gray sponsors a South Seas expedition to commemorate completion of his company’s new skyscraper, the world’s tallest building. His voyage aims not only to collect weaponry and artifacts, but “several natives related by blood” for the company’s rooftop spectacle. The expedition forces a collision course between the tribal and the civilized, and two young men plagued by haunting pasts.
Smith spent four years researching and writing the book. His quest for authenticity took him to Chicago, where he spent many hours researching period architecture and architects while also poring over the Chicago Tribune’s digital archives dating to the 1850s. He also spent time researching 19th century sailing and natural science, and Melanesia — a collection of islands north and northwest of Australia.
Architecture was his first love, Smith says, but he left the field to study humanities, ultimately receiving undergraduate degrees in both anthropology and creative writing from the University of Iowa. He later obtained an MFA from the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers. Austin remains home base for Smith, who will be teaching at SMU through spring 2012.
“Texas, especially west Texas, is a lot like Australia’s outback — both in culture and landscape,” says Smith. “The concept of the rugged individual taking matters into his own hands is very familiar to me.”
Smith’s short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Atlantic. Other honors include a grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council, a Dobie Paisano Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize.
In 2006, his debut novel The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, about the mercury-poisoned madness of one of photography’s founding fathers, was selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program and received the Steven Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters.
His second novel, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, depicting a young man’s struggle to find peace with both a brain injury and his father, has been optioned for a Southpaw Entertainment film.
To learn more about Smith, visit dominicsmith.net, a site with interactive features highlighting his research on Bright and Distant Shores.
Other Recent Books by SMU Creative Writing Professors:
- C. W. Smith: Steplings - a new novel about being young, misunderstood and full of longing as seen through the eyes of a high school dropout and his know-it-all stepsister.
- Marshall Terry: Loving U - about his 60-year relationship with SMU, from student to administrator to revered professor