where the writers are
Smartt Living and Loving

Yesterday was spent sitting at the Southern Illinois Writers Guild table with poet Jim Lambert.  Once again the Guild was invited to have a table to display our anthologies and books and to be available to help the speaker sell his/her books at the annual Women’s Health Conference at John A. Logan College.


I have helped with this table job several years before, and the big disadvantage is that you are tied to the table and can’t hear the speakers or go to the break-out sessions.  Some years the selling of the speaker’s book has been difficult, but this year’s speaker Lisa Smartt was so down-to-earth and so much inclined to help others that she would hardly let Jim or me do much for her.  I was pleased that even though almost no one was left in the hall, I still was able to sell two of her books while she was at the noon banquet. 


As I watched her interact with those who heard her speak, I became aware of another reason she wanted to independently sell her books.  She wanted to personally know each person, and if she had had her desire, she would have listened to each person’s story.  Since that was usually impossible, she handed them her card with her email address and urged them to write her with promises that she would answer.


Nevertheless, we could not help overhearing the brief stories of sadness that could not be repressed by her listeners, whom she had made cry and laugh.  Obviously, she had touched women where they lived, whether by recounting her human weaknesses (she doesn’t brush her teeth at night) or the temporary disability she had suffered after an accident.  One woman’s comment made me know she had covered the female problem of incontinence because that woman explained they named their lunch group the Sisterhood of the Incontinent. 


With her typical generosity, she offered to buy our books, but we ended up swapping books instead.  So I read The Smartt Views:  Life, Love and Cluttered Closets this afternoon. I’d heard her explain this self-published book was a collection of columns that had appeared in The Union City Daily Messenger and The Weakley County Press. She said most were funny, but some were serious. 


She was correct because I both laughed and cried as I read the columns.  But what I relished the most was her disdain for pretension and open defense of the imperfect among us (usually meaning herself).  Whether she was talking about housekeeping, cooking, country living, weddings, gifts for children, or fashion, she spoke out for simplicity and human values as opposed to upwardly mobile aspirations. Her heroes weren’t the rich and famous but everyday folk who make America great.  She could not imagine why anyone would want a white couch, carpet in their dining room, or a sweater for their dog.  (Until her two boys reached the age of wanting a dog, she couldn’t imagine anyone wanting a dog.  But she fell for theirs in short order.)


She expressed a fondness for small town and rural life and people who live “out from” somewhere as her family does since they moved to Northwest Tennessee, where her husband teaches at UT Martin.  Their sons have the run of a woods and plenty of sticks and mud holes to play with.


I especially liked her last chapter where she talks about the folk who live in trailer parks, as their family did in Texas. She told of the fine people there including the alcoholics and addicts and refuted the term “trash” for human beings.  She had been shaped by a home with school teacher parents (and a mother who was a writer) and whose Christian faith made them willing to offer their spare bedroom, cars, or a couch to someone in need.  These same parents had spent their retirement helping disaster victims, such as those in Hurricane Andrew or Katrina. .


Lisa Smartt admits to often losing her mind and her keys, but fortunately she has never lost her sense of humor.