Governor’s Arts Awards: Annick Smith

Honoree profiles continue with this "unique combination of Montana feist and Parisian elegance”

New & Notable

The six 2018 Governor’s Arts Award honorees – Rick Bass, Monte Dolack, Jackie Parsons, Kevin Red Star, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith and Annick Smith – were honored during a public ceremony with Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, Dec. 7 at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena.

The Governor’s Arts Award recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations whose achievements in the arts, or on behalf of the arts, benefit all Montanans. The six honorees join the ranks of more than 100 Montanans honored since the awards were established in 1981, including Rudy Autio, James Lee Burke, Judith Blegen, Agnes Oshanee Kenmille, Wally McRae, Frances Senska, Michael Smuin and Benjamin Steele, to name just a few.

Lively Times continues its profiles of recipients with filmmaker, writer and editor Annick Smith:

Montana is intrinsic to my writing – it is my creative hearth. All of my writing has been done in Montana, at my desk in the log house on the meadow in the Blackfoot Valley where I have lived since 1971. My meadow is a constant inspiration, as are the Big Blackfoot River, Glacier Park, the wide open plains of eastern Montana, the Rocky Mountains, and wilderness areas such as the Bob Marshall – these have been inspirations and the subject matter for my essays, stories, films, and anthologies.

– Annick Smith

Annick Smith
Annick Smith: “Montana is intrinsic to my writing – it is my creative hearth.”Photo © Tony Cesare

“As a filmmaker, writer, activist and citizen, Annick Smith has been, and continues to be, an integral thread in the literary, artistic, environmental, and social fabric of Montana,” writes friend and colleague Robert Stubblefield in nominating her for the Governor’s Arts Award.

Smith was born in Paris, grew up in Chicago, lived in Seattle, and has settled in Montana for more than 50 years. She was a filmmaker first, producing the prize-winning feature, “Heartland,” and was a co-producer of “A River Runs Through It.”

Her documentaries include a series about Indian tribes in the Inland Northwest, “The Real People,” for public television, and a portrait of poet Richard Hugo, “Kicking the Loose Gravel Home.” Smith was a founding member of the Sundance Film Institute and the Independent Features Project.

Her nature essays and travel articles have appeared in such publications as Orion, Outside, Audubon, National Geo Traveler, Travel & Leisure, The New York Times, and regional magazines, as well as in literary journals such as TriQuarterly. Her fiction has been published in Story magazine and her story, “It’s Come to This,” appeared in Best American Short Stories 1992, won a National Magazine Award for short fiction, and has been widely anthologized.

She is co-editor with Susan O’Connor of a new multicultural anthology, Hearth: A Global Conversation About Community, Identity, and Place, published by Milkweed Editions in September. Other collaborations include The Last Best Place, an invaluable and lasting contribution to Montana’s literary landscape, co-edited with her longtime companion, William Kittredge, and The Wide Open: Prose, Poems, and Photographs of the Prairie, also co-edited with O’Connor.

Hearth: Annick Smith & Susan O'Connor
Cherished writers explore community, identity and place in new anthology.

Smith’s memoir, road trip and dog book, Crossing the Plains with Bruno, was published in 2015. Other books include an earlier memoir, Homestead, a collection of essays, In This We are Native, and a book about Oklahoma’s tall grass prairies, Big Bluestem.

Of her creative process, Smith writes, “I like to always have a project going ­­– and most of my projects take years to complete. Although my greatest joy is to work in isolation and be so deeply involved I forget the passage of time, I am also a person who loves collaboration. This explains why I made movies, organized literary centers and events, and worked on anthologies with fellow writers and editors.”

Her recent essay, “Still the Last Best Place?” (published in Montana Magazine and the Missoulian) addresses the changes and challenges over the 30 years since the publication of The Last Best Place, and documents her full and continuing engagement with the most topical and pressing issues facing our state.

Author Debra Magpie Earling describes Smith as “a bedazzling remarkable presence in our state. The Montana literary landscape would not be the last best place without her vision, her talent, her laudable beloved memoirs, and her truly inspiring love of the land.”

Pat and Carol Williams celebrate her tenacity, and contributions to literature and the humanities. “During the past almost half century she has honed her writing and filmmaking perceptions the old-fashioned way: though building a homestead and managing the land, writing poems and stories, raising four boys alone, editing, assembling words and stories, and saying ‘yes’ to the many requests to serve the humanities through engaging in study groups, conferences and workshops.”

And Rick Bass, also among this year’s Governor’s Arts Award recipients, describes Smith as “a unique combination of Montana feist and Parisian elegance.”

“May we all aspire to some semblance or percentage of her unique combination of spirit, talent, strength, honesty, passion, and – perhaps hardest of all – vulnerability,” he writes. “She is an ambassador for our state and our regions: the finest, best, most compassionate and intelligent we have.”

– Kristi Niemeyer