Alum of the Month: Spenser Smith

Spenser Smith profile

September 6, 2023 - 1:30pm

Struggling with substance use in his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan, Spenser Smith decided to come to a residential treatment centre in Nanaimo.

Following his treatment, he made the decision to stay in the city after falling in love “with the rainforest, the wildlife and the small caring community.”

He also decided to enroll in VIU’s Creative Writing program to chase his dreams of becoming a writer. Since graduating, Spenser completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at UBC, started work at the University of Manitoba and published his first book of poetry.

We caught up with Spenser to learn more about his experience, the background behind his book, what he’s currently up to and what’s next for him.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a writer and photographer who graduated from VIU’s Creative Writing and Journalism program in 2019. My first book of poetry, A brief relief from hunger, was just published.

What was your life like leading up to when you decided to seek more education at VIU?

I was struggling with substance use in Regina, my hometown, before coming to a residential treatment centre in Nanaimo. After treatment, I decided to stay in Nanaimo. I fell in love with the rainforest, the wildlife and the small, caring community, all of which played crucial roles in my recovery.

What made you choose VIU initially?

VIU was attractive for two reasons:

Firstly, it had options for someone like me – a mature student without a high school diploma. I passed the Grade 12 English equivalency test, called ACCUPLACER, which allowed me entry into the Bachelor of Arts program.

Secondly, VIU offered a standalone creative writing program, which meant I could major in creative writing and chase my dream of becoming a working writer.

Tell us about your poetry book and how it came about.

a brief relief from hunger book cover

A brief relief from hunger book cover

A brief relief from hunger is about my experiences with substance use and survival, BC’s toxic drug supply crisis and the discrimination drug users face.

In 2016, when BC declared a public health emergency because of rising overdose deaths, I noticed a lot of hate towards drug users on social media. CBC and CTV would post articles about the crisis on Facebook and people would make cruel remarks in the comment sections, often suggesting that drug users deserve to die. This is still happening today. In my book, I incorporate these comments into my poems and address them as a former drug user who has lost several friends to overdose.

I started writing these poems as a student at VIU and completed the manuscript as a Master of Fine Arts student at UBC.

What do you hope people take from it?

I hope people see the humanity and worth of people who use illicit drugs.

What else are you up to right now?

I recently joined the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg as a copywriter. I was inspired to make this move, in part, by my positive experiences with VIU’s marketing and communications team. They championed my story as a student and alumni, and now I get to do the same for students and alumni at UM. I also run a gourmet mushroom kit company called Folk Fungi.

What’s next for you?

I hope to start writing a second book soon. I also hope to teach creative writing in my community.

Tags: Creative Writing and Journalism | Our Alumni

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