Lasting resource

Faculty member’s papers will reside in University Archives
black and white photo of Mark Smith
In April 1968, with a novel rejected by two publishers, writer Mark Smith reached out to his book agent with an idea. He had been thinking about reviving an old piece — a detective story set in Chicago — for his next work. “I discovered I’m right and ripe for the book,” he wrote. “The momentum is there, and the book will write me. I want to write about Chicago with something like desperation.”

That desperation would prove literary gold. Published in 1974, “The Death of the Detective” was a New York Times paperback bestseller that one Times reviewer called “remarkable for both its ambition and its accomplishment.” It was a finalist for a National Book Award in 1975.

Smith, an American novelist and poet and UNH faculty emeritus known for designing the department’s M.A.-in-Writing program (now the M.F.A.), passed away July 28, 2022, at the age of 86. He lived an interesting life of literature, travel, music and experiences — he worked as a mucker extending the Chicago subway, was married three times and resided for months at a time in Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain and Great Britain. He studied at Northwestern with poet John Crowe Ransom and lived for a time at the New Mexico home of poet Robert Creeley. At UNH he taught fiction writing and theory for 33 years and counted among his peers well-known writers like Donald Hall, Thomas Williams, John Yount and Theodore Weesner, the journalist and composition authority Donald Murray and U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic.

Now his papers — including correspondence to publishers and other famed writers of the time — will be housed in the UNH Library’s archives, providing a window into the inner workings of a bygone era of book publishing and, thanks to his detailed correspondence and notes, a view into his literary creativity.

Smith is also noted for the well-known writers he helped foster and teach: Alice McDermott ’78, Ursula Hegi ’78 ’79G, Thylias Moss ’83G and Lou Ureneck ’72, among them.

As a professor he was “master of the long silence” to get students talking, says wife Kathy Cone Smith, an editor and teacher of composition and film to whom Mark was married for the past 30 years. “He absolutely loved teaching. He treated students like they were his writing colleagues; they were writers, and he shared that respect with them.”

His first novel, “Toyland,” was the runner-up for the Faulkner Award in 1966. During the course of his career, he received grants and fellowships from the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill and Fulbright foundations and the National Endowment of the Arts.

He continued writing until the end of his life — four novels, two short story collections, poetry and essays, all unpublished, says Kathy.

“Mark Smith’s papers mark another important link in the chain concerning the study of writing and teaching of writing here at the university. His papers show the collegial work in the Department of English as he focused on teaching creative writing. They’ll serve as a valuable resource for scholarly research and future interests,” says Elizabeth Slomba, university archivist and interim special collections librarian.

— Michelle Morrissey ’97

Plan a visit to the Milne Special Collections and Archives at UNH or learn more about its digital collection here: