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Kurt Vonnegut Radio with Gabe Hudson
32. Why Gen X icon Maggie Smith believes honesty is care

32. Why Gen X icon Maggie Smith believes honesty is care

Gabe Hudson talks to the acclaimed poet about her exquisite new memoir, "You Could Make This Place Beautiful," and how her beloved newsletter enhances her creative life
Maggie Smith / Devon Albeit Photography

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Hey People, today we have a legit Gen X icon,

, on the show. Maggie’s new memoir, “You Could Make This Place Beautiful” pubbed recently and instantly hit The New York Times bestseller list. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and I think it’s destined to become a kind of classic: passed around among friends and loved ones. I also want to thank recent guest , , editor of , for connecting me and Maggie.

Maggie Smith’s memoir is truth-telling of the highest order. This book chronicles the peaks and valleys of her turbulent journey in recent years. How her poem, “Good Bones,” went super viral, and her marriage dissolved, and she suddenly found herself in what for most of us would painful and frightening terrain. And how she stepped up and responded by writing two books, and through her artistry and creativity: she was able to insure that she and her kids would be OK. (I so admire and respect, Maggie Smith, the writer, and the person in the world. I think she sets an incredible example for any artist.)

Maggie and I also discuss in detail her newsletter,

I loved this conversation. And my spirit is much better because of it. I sure hope it does your spirit good too. There are so many treasures in what Maggie has to tell us.

Maggie Smith, choice quotes from our conversation

How she channeled the messiness of life to construct her memoir

The idea of telling my life as a story, in a lot of ways, feels false. Because when we think about a narrative, we think about a certain level of cohesion. And someone asked me about this book. Did you outline it beforehand? And I was like, As if you could outline your life. No, I didn't outline it. I wrote it in pieces and then assembled it and color coded everything. And it was an absolute mess, as is life.

On going from writing poetry to writing her memoir

Honestly, the joys of being able to stretch my legs a little bit in prose and in the memoir was getting to be more fully my regular not-writer self, in writing.

On being a Gen X icon

Where's my Burger King crown?

On her essential optimism

Optimism doesn't mean just turning your head away from the hard things and being, la la la, everything's fine. It means moving through whatever the thing is and knowing that it's going to change. And so standing in a storm and knowing enough to know that's not the permanent weather.

On her morning ritual of coffee and Substacks

Oh my gosh, I read so many Substacks. It's a beautiful thing when I wake up in the morning and my email is automatically full of all of those automatic pushes. And I spend my morning having coffee and flitting like a butterfly from flower to flower.

On seeing Kurt Vonnegut give a talk at her college

I went to Ohio Wesleyan, which is a small liberal arts college in central Ohio, in Delaware. And he came to our school and I remember sitting there thinking, I can't believe I'm in the same room as Kurt Vonnegut. I've always loved his books. I love his ability to grapple with the very real darkness in the world, but with such wit and therefore hope.

On the Pep Talks she writes for her newsletter

I do a series of Pep Talks on my Substack. You Are Not For Everyone, which is really a pep talk to me. But also anyone else who needs to hear it.

On using her newsletter to demystify the the creative process

A poem is a made thing. So hey, you want to see how I made it? Because it started out insane, and messy, and also bad. I have to not be embarrassed to be like, Yeah, this is what the first draft looked like, y'all.

Image from Maggie Smith’s newsletter, For Dear Life

On her forthcoming children’s book, “My Thoughts Have Wings”

My fifth grader in 2020, it was peak pandemic. And then the kids, at least in my house, were also going through a major upheaval with the divorce. And so, for my little guy, we have this bedtime routine where I would lie down with him and we would try to fill him up with good thoughts before bed. We have this time where we're really gonna steep ourselves in positive thoughts. Things to look forward to. Happy memories, stuff we like to eat, things that cracked us up. And that would help him relax and ease into sleep. And so I wrote this book called “My Thoughts Have Wings” about…a mom and a child at bedtime. It's an anti-anxiety bedtime story that I hope for readers will help tuck-ins in their house be a little bit gentler.

Maggie Smith recommends three of her favorite Substacks


  1. I love Oldster. It's about aging, but it's about more than that. And I love the questionnaire. I got to do it once and I was so honored to be asked. Nico Case did one recently that I loved reading. That was amazing. That's such a good one, and I think particularly as a woman, the concept of aging in this country is so fraught that I love the sort of, let's just celebrate that.


  1. Another one I read really consistently is Men Yell At Me. It's Liz Lenz. A journalist in Iowa. Also a single mom. Also a fierce feminist. She does this thing called Dingus of the Week, on her Substack, it's brilliant, but it's also funny. She can just eviscerate somebody who doesn't know what they're talking about. So I highly recommend Men Yell at Me.


  2. Elissa Altman, who's one of my very favorite writers, has a Substack called Poor Man’s Feast. She calls it a narrative journal and it really is about everything from family to place. Because, again, truth telling, right? Being able to say the thing, but also say it with empathy and curiosity and balance and care. I think she shows up to everything she writes with so much nuance.


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    Hi, I’m Gabe Hudson, and this is Kurt Vonnegut Radio, my Substack. It’s free and for the people, but it’s also how I buy groceries. So please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $5/month or $50/year. You can also receive my eternal love by becoming a Lifetime Member at $150.

Show Notes

Buy Maggie Smith’s new memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful

Subscribe to Maggie’s newsletter For Dear Life

Buy Maggie’s recent book Keep Moving

Buy Maggie’s poetry collection Good Bones

Visit Maggie’s website and follow her on twitter and instagram

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