Alumni of the Month: Spenser Smith

Spenser Smith, a VIU Creative Writing alum, seated outdoors with his laptop

VIU Creative Writing alumnus Spenser Smith has received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to help him write a book of poetry that challenges stereotypes about drug users.

December 8, 2020 - 1:30pm

Through his writing, Spenser Smith (Bachelor of Arts, Major in Creative Writing ’19) is attempting to change the public’s perception of drug users and add another perspective to the conversation about BC’s overdose crisis.

In September 2019, he started his Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC), for which he is writing a book of poetry that explores his personal experiences with drug addiction and the stigma drug users face, especially on social media. He also works as a teaching assistant, and he started his own poetry school – called Line Break. Line Break has had to take a back seat to his studies for now, but he hopes to continue with the project in 2021 after he finishes his book.


What were some of the highlights of your time at VIU?

VIU gave me the opportunity to follow my dream of becoming a writer. From start to finish, my instructors provided invaluable feedback and instruction, which helped me publish poems in literary magazines across Canada, including The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire and The Puritan. I also enjoyed the plethora of writing and editing opportunities that the creative writing program (and the university as a whole) offers. I was the managing editor of Portal, VIU’s literary magazine; associate editor of The Navigator, VIU’s student press; and a contributor to Incline, an online magazine produced by creative writing students. These experiences were not only fun and transformative, but they provided me writing and editing experiences that have proved instrumental in my professional pursuits. 

What have you been up to since graduating from VIU?

After I graduated from VIU, I worked as the Media and Communications Coordinator at Island Crisis Care Society, a non-profit organization that provides housing to people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo and Oceanside. Throughout my degree at VIU, I worked there as a summer student. Then, in September 2019, I began my Master of Arts in Creative Writing degree at the UBC, where I also work as a teaching assistant in the undergraduate creative writing program. This past summer, I started an online poetry school called Line Break. Due to the demands of my thesis, I’ve had to pause Line Break for the moment, but I hope to reboot once I graduate.

What motivated you to start your own poetry school?

I’ve loved being a teaching assistant at UBC, and with the boom of online courses during the pandemic, I thought, “Why not start my own poetry course?” Nothing makes me happier than helping students grow.

Tell us about your poetry thesis, which you received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to write.

In the UBC MFA program, students need to write a book-length creative thesis to graduate. For my thesis, I am writing a book of poetry that explores my personal experience with drug addiction and the stigma drug users face on social media, especially in the context of British Columbia’s overdose crisis. When a news outlet like CBC posts an article about drug users or the overdose crisis on Facebook, it’s quite common for members of the public to respond with stigmatizing comments in the comments section, including comments that promote the death of drug users. For my thesis, I am integrating some of these comments into my poetry and juxtaposing them with my lived experience as a drug user. My hope is to challenge stereotypes and de-stigmatise drug users.

What advice would you give to students hoping to follow in your footsteps?

Follow your passions. Due to my past drug addiction, I came to VIU without a high school diploma or GED. But, by studying a subject l loved, I was able to bring maximum effort and enthusiasm to my studies, which helped me excel despite my educational background.

What’s next for you?

As soon as I complete my thesis this spring, I plan to submit the manuscript to poetry publishers. Hopefully the book will be available in the near future! Also, after I graduate, I won’t be a university student for the first time in seven years, which means I need to find a full-time gig in Vancouver where I live now. I’m hoping to find a copywriting or communications position.

Tags: Creative Writing and Journalism | Student Stories | Our Alumni

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