Invasion of Privacy: English professor works to bridge gap between writing, science disciplines

Assistant professor of English Lytton Smith arrived in the United States to attend graduate school at Columbia University, having grown up and previously lived in southeast England. Smith’s work at Geneseo prioritizes collaboration between the humanities, mainly English, and other disciplines, like geology. (Izzy Graziano/Knights’ Life Editor)

Accomplished poet and assistant professor of English Lytton Smith encourages students to explore new intellectual avenues and expand their knowledge.

Smith grew up in the southeast of England and attended University College London for his undergraduate studies. He continued on to receive his Master of Fine Arts in poetry and PhD of English literature at Columbia University in New York. He joined the Geneseo faculty in fall 2014 after teaching at a handful of universities in the United Kingdom.

He has published two poetry collections, both dealing with themes of distance and understanding people from different backgrounds, titled “The All-Purpose Magical Tent” and “While You Were Approaching the Spectacle and Before You Were Transformed by It.” Additionally, Smith has published a chapter book called My Radar Data Knows Its Thing. 

This semester, Smith is teaching five courses, including Advanced Poetry Workshop, Senior Seminar for English majors and two one-credit classes—one entitled “Creative Science Writing” which allows scientists and writers on campus to work together.

He also serves on the advisory board for the Red Hook program, which explores Geneseo’s creativity by giving students the opportunity to be on location for three days in New York City following a six-week online study of the area’s writings and photography.

Smith recognizes the overlap between scientists and writers both in their studies and in the way they think. In his summer course “Writing and Knowing the Land”—co-taught abroad in Iceland with assistant professor of geological sciences Nick Warner—two often polarized fields are brought together.

“It seems like a natural fit,” Smith said. “Because in both fields, imagination is really important. Both fields are good at asking ‘what if’ and trying things out.” 

The course aims to combine environmental and geological science with creative writing, while increasing students’ awareness and engagement with the Icelandic culture and region. Geology and creative writing students are paired to produce topical scientific writing about the land.

“Geologists rely on recording and describing the world. They see a sweep of time. When they look at a mountain, they don’t only see a mountain. They see how it’s moved over time,” he said. “Creative writers look at a scene and don’t see people just talking in a coffee shop. They see a dramatic event and can start running with it.”

Smith prioritizes collaboration among both faculty and students. In his study abroad course, he values the opportunity to learn geological and environmental science.

Fluent in Icelandic, Smith has translated several novels. After taking a two-year course on old Icelandic literature and language in college, he became interested in the country. Smith believes life abroad is an essential experience. Furthermore, he thinks studying abroad is a necessary part in understanding another culture and the reasons behind particular thoughts and actions formed from cultural routine.

“Bridge building concerns science and writing as well as language and culture,” Smith said. “They’re not absolute, and if you have those two cultures, you’re constantly coming up against something that says, ‘oh, this is how they’re doing things there; could I re-examine how I’m doing things in my habitual way?’”

Outside of academia, Smith enjoys time with his young children and plays recreational sports such as rugby, soccer and tennis.

He considers commencement one of the proudest moments at the college, as it allows people to celebrate students’ work and achievements.

“I hope they know that the students shape the lives of the faculty and the college here,” Smith said.