Writer Patrick Davis Smith was born on 8 October 1927 in Mendenhall, Mississippi, to politician John D. Smith and Nora Eubanks Smith. He earned an associate’s degree from Hinds Junior College in 1944 and joined the US Merchant Marine the following year, serving in North Africa and Europe. Upon returning home, he earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Mississippi in 1947 and married Iris Doty, with whom he went on to have two children.
Smith returned to Mendenhall in 1948 and remained there until 1956, owning and operating an automobile dealership and a cattle ranch. Smith served as a correspondent in Korea in 1953 and thereafter continued to contribute to newspapers. He was employed as the director of public relations for the Sperry Rand Corporation, Vickers Division, in Jackson between 1956 and 1958 and then held the post of director of public relations at Hinds Junior College from 1959 to 1962. Smith earned a master’s degree from the University of Mississippi in 1959 and moved to Oxford in 1962, spending the next four years as the university’s director of public information. Smith then moved to Florida, becoming director of college relations at Brevard Community College until his retirement in 1988.
Smith honed his craft as a writer while employed in other industries but took time to live among the people who would populate his books. His first novel, The River Is Home (1953), chronicles the lives of people called “swamp rats” who lived along the Pearl River in Mississippi and Louisiana in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his next novel, The Beginning (1967), Smith depicts poor white and black communities struggling during the civil rights movement. Smith’s focus shifted to Florida after his move there: Forever Island (1973) and Allapattah (1987) feature the Seminole Indians struggling against development and the encroachment of modernity, while Angel City (1978) portrays the virtual slavery suffered by modern-day migrant workers. As part of his research, Smith lived among the Seminoles and in several migrant camps. His 1984 novel, A Land Remembered, won the Florida Historical Society’s Tebeau Prize as the Most Outstanding Florida Historical Novel. His final novel was The Seas That Mourn (2003). Smith also published two nonfiction books, The Last Ride (2000), cowritten with and about Glen “Pee Wee” Mercer, a champion bull rider who was paralyzed in a 1995 bull-riding accident, and In Search of the Russian Bear: An American Writer’s Odyssey in the Former Soviet Union (2001), as well as a collection of short stories, A White Deer and Other Stories (2007). Forever Island, Angel City, and A Land Remembered were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1985 Smith was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Florida PBS-TV released 1990 documentary, Visions of Nature: Patrick Smith’s Florida. In 1995 Smith received the Order of the South from the Southern Academy of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, and in 1999 he was inducted into the Florida Artists’ Hall of Fame. In 2002 the Florida Historical Society named Smith the Greatest Living Floridian.
Smith explained that the characters in his novels are “underdogs in life [who] are real people although they are basically unknown to the majority of the reading public. I have devoted my writing talent to researching their ways of life and putting this into print in hopes that my novels might in some way improve their status in life.”
He died in Florida on 26 January 2014.
- Mississippi Writers and Musicians website, www.mswritersandmusicians.com
- Patrick D. Smith, The Beginning (1967)
- Patrick D. Smith, A Land Remembered (1984)
- Patrick D. Smith, The River Is Home (1953)
- Patrick D. Smith website, http://patricksmithonline.com/
- Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors Series