Alumnus Lytton Smith '07 Publishes Two Books

BY Amanda Breen, February 18, 2021

Writing alumnus Lytton Smith ’07 has published two books: The Square, a chapbook of poems about protest movements (New Michigan Press) and On Time and Water, a translation of a groundbreaking Icelandic book about climate change (Open Letter). 


While The Square has been nearly a decade in the making, it’s especially topical after the recent events at the US capitol. The 7” x 7” book has roots in Tahrir Square, Egypt, where in January of 2011, competing groups of protestors argued whether or not to put the president on trial. The occupation of the Square and other peaceful demonstrations brought the oppressive Mubarak regime to a close, but it also left Egyptians wondering what would come next, a feeling Smith’s book explores by delving into ambiguity: the poems weave together imagery from news broadcasts, phrases overheard from the World Service, and the testimonies of protestors across the globe. 


According to Writing alumna Idra Novey ’04, who will read from The Square during its upcoming virtual launch, “These profound poems capture the after and the after and the after of human history as it has played out upon squares all over the world...Smith has created an urgent, stirring poetics of the square and its role in social movements all over the world.”


Translated by Smith from the Icelandic, On Time and Water came to be when, a few years ago, Andri Snaer Magnason, one of Iceland’s most celebrated writers and intellectuals, was asked by a leading climate scientist why he hadn’t written about the climate change crisis. Magnason said it was because he wasn’t a specialist, but the scientist said Magnason could situate the science in a context people would understand. Magnason wrote a work of narrative nonfiction, already a bestseller in Iceland, that does just that—Magnason merges interviews and advice from leading glacial, ocean, climate, and geographical scientists with personal, historical, and mythological stories to depict the reality of climate change. 


The Economist calls Magnason’s book unique and compelling: “The author tries to understand, and tries to make the reader understand, why the climate crisis is not widely perceived as a distinct, transformative event in the manner of, say, the fall of the Berlin Wall or the attacks of September 11, 2001. The fundamental problem, as this book elucidates, is time. Climate change is a disaster in slow motion, and yet “slow” is a great deal faster than many people seem able to understand.”


In addition to The Square, Smith is the author of the collections My Radar Data Knows Its Thing (Foundlings Press), While You Were Approaching the Spectacle But Before You Were Transformed By It (Nightboat Books), and The All-Purpose Magical Tent (Nightboat Books). He has also translated several novels from the Icelandic. He is a 2019 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship.

Smith received both his PhD and MFA from Columbia University. Since 2014, he has been a member of the faculty at SUNY Geneseo, where he often teaches the advanced poetry workshop NeuWrite: Creative Science Writing (co-taught with Dr. Olympia Nicodemi from Mathematics) and Writing and Knowing the Land: Abroad in Iceland (co-taught with Dr. Nick Warner from Geological Sciences), among others. He is the Director of the Center of Integrative Learning at SUNY Geneseo. 


The Zoom launch of The Square will take place at 8 pm ET on Monday, February 22, 2021. You can register here