By McKenna Solomon, Marketing Writer, Regis University

Suzi Q. Smith (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Suzi Q. Smith (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Words matter.

To Suzi Q. Smith, that is a fundamental truth. She’s built a career, and a national reputation, on her words and on using them to deliver sometimes uncomfortable truths.

In the course of that career, Smith has compiled an impressive resume: published poet, activist, community organizer, lecturer, artist. She was the founding “slammaster” of Slam Nuba, Denver’s now-famous poetry slam, and spent twelve years as a competing poet and coach. It’s no wonder that Smith, a creator by trade, jokes that her last name could not be more appropriate.

Smith recently added a new accomplishment to that list: Mentor and instructor in Regis University’s Mile-High MFA program.

Smith is the latest addition to the long list of distinguished, and notable, faculty members and mentors in the Regis program. Smith’s colleagues include Kristen Iversen, a two-time winner of the Colorado Book Award; R. Alan Brooks, a one-time rapper whose graphic novels explore race and identity; journalist and award-winning author Helen Thorpe; and Khadijah Queen, whose poetry addresses difficult issues of race and femininity.

R. Alan Brooks (photo courtesy of Regis University)

R. Alan Brooks (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Regis may boast a marquee lineup of writers, but the Mile-High MFA program is more than a showcase for their talent. It’s a space where successful creators work closely with students to help them discover and cultivate their own distinct voice, and to deploy that creativity in service of others.

For Smith, helping students develop their individual writing persona is the main objective of teaching. “I want people to feel comfortable [with] and to value their own voice,” she said. “I want everyone to live their sole purpose — their divine purpose — and be loved in that process.”

Her own creative process is a balance between excess and void. “Poems come from the excess of emotion. Emotions are heavy. Artists make something or explode,” she said.

The void, too, inspires Smith, particularly when it takes the form of silence on an issue she feels strongly about. “Is someone going to say something? Do I have to say something?”

Helen Thorpe (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Helen Thorpe (photo courtesy of Regis University)

For the teachers and mentors in the Mile-High MFA program, the answer to that is an unqualified yes. Each of them has discovered that they do have to say something, and found powerful language for doing so.

In her award-winning non-fiction, Helen Thorpe makes broad topics like immigration and women serving in the military deeply personal through the individual stories. Most recently, her digital-only collection of essays, Finding Motherland, walks readers through the experiences of past generations of immigrants, highlighting what they have in common with families who are immigrating to the United States today.

R. Alan Brooks deploys his words to challenge bigotry. Brooks’ forthcoming graphic novel, Anguish Garden, created alongside artistic collaborators Kevin Caron, Dailen Ogden and Sarah Menzel Trapl, uses allegory to investigate race, identity and xenophobia. At the same time, Brooks is preparing the next generation of artists and writers to take their place in an emerging, and increasingly recognized, storytelling format.

Khadijah Queen (photo courtesy of Regis University)

Khadijah Queen (photo courtesy of Regis University)

In Anodyne, her sixth poetry volume, which was released in August to widespread acclaim, Mile-High MFA mentor Khadijah Queen addresses issues of femininity and race, intertwines violence and beauty, and provokes and soothes. Her poetry does this with words as lyric as they are bravely personal.

Kristen Iversen’s latest book, a literary biography of the troubled genius Nicola Tesla, follows her award-winning memoir, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. That book examined a childhood indelibly marked by the nuclear arms race, and exposed the secrets and sometimes deadly cost of the Cold War.

That Mile-High MFA’s teachers and mentors examine some of the most pressing issues facing society through a personal lens is no accident. In keeping with the Jesuit values that are the underpinning of a Regis education, the MFA program compels students to explore ways that their own writing talents can contribute to the greater good.

That fits Smith’s teaching philosophy. For Smith, poetry is an act of cura personalis. She teaches that writing is a process for evaluating the emotional landscape of life: it helps us discern our relationships with ourselves, our communities and our faith. And in the process, poets are caring for their soul. Smith said, “Writing helps us with what we’ve inherited. What we were given. What we have chosen. What we were chosen to do.”