John Warner Smith began writing poetry while building a successful professional career as a public administrator and a bank executive. His last public sector position was service on the cabinet of Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Labor, where he led the recovery of the state’s workforce development system in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Smith’s debut poetry collection, A Mandala of Hands, was published by Kelsay Books/Aldrich Press in 2015. Other books include Spirits of the Gods (ULL Press, 2017) and Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016). Smith’s fifth collection, American Portrait, New and Selected Poems on Race in America, is forthcoming in 2019 by MadHat Press.
Smith’s poetry has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and for the Sundress Best of the Net Anthology. His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals across the country. His first manuscript was a finalist in the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition, and his short collection, “Hunting Dragonflies,” was a finalist in the 2012 Poetry Contest of the Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival.
Smith earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans Low-Residency MFA Program, where he completed summer residencies in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon completing the MFA, he received a fellowship from the Cave Canem Foundation to attend the prestigious writing program founded by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. Smith is also a three-time participant of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, where he studied under award-winning poets Tracy K. Smith and Terrance Hayes.
Smith teaches English at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Since November 2007, he has directed a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to reforming public education in Louisiana.