Anthony Smart Jr.
Class of 2024 graduate Anthony Smart Jr., B.A., English. (Steve Zylius/UC Irvine)

A New Orleans native, Anthony Smart Jr. has spent the last three years at UC Irvine perfecting his writing skills.

“I’ve always been a writer,” he says. “It’s a God-given talent, but I wanted to see how far I could take it if I learned from the best.”

Smart was always inspired by how writing and speech had the power to evoke emotions that could potentially change minds. For him, studying African literature meant grasping how diverse lives are outside the European spectrum. He believes this sheds light on the interconnectedness we all share.

After graduation, Smart plans to spend a year in Japan teaching English. He’s considering pursuing a Ph.D. when he returns.

While he aspires to become a college English professor, Smart’s primary passion is writing. He has been dabbling in creative writing and exploring poetry, novels and research-based papers – with the eventual goals of crafting movie scripts for Hollywood, publishing his poetry and writing novels.

For now, Smart continues to develop his skills to their fullest potential. “I’m a real writer now,” he says, “and I’m only getting better.”

Who at UC Irvine has been an influence or made a significant impact on you?

Michael Szalay is my favorite professor; he taught a class on modernism. I always thought that universities were these big institutions where students are invisible in classes of 100-plus people, but that’s not completely true. Students who want to be seen will be seen, and the relationships built with my teachers have been very beautiful. I think the humanities faculty is very warm, understanding and loving. There were different levels of how close I got to professors, but the whole experience has really been something to remember.

I’d also like to mention Àdísà Àjàmú, director of the UCI Center for Black Cultures, Resources and Research. After not graduating in 2023, I was going to drop out of school, but he made the effort to convince me to stay. As head of the CBCRR, he really understands what it’s like to be Black and not have people understand the unique struggle that makes it harder to exist everywhere.

What advice would you give to a student starting their academic journey at UC Irvine?

I would say, “Don’t doubt yourself.” I think a lot of minorities feel an identity crisis when they first get here. They ask if they really belong here and if they can really become what they’re pursuing. But I think that if you put in the work, you’ll find yourself exactly where you want to be.

Reflection by Anthony Smart Jr.

Wavy reflections

When I look at you

staring back at me,

one day I’d like to like what I see.

In a sea of doubts and fears

When I reflect upon that reflection

What I see is so beautifully clear.

Heart racing

Star gazing

Here in this present moment

dream chasing

I’ve already come so far it’s amazing.

Time is oh so precious so the sun I’ll keep chasing.

“Anthony’s inexhaustible curiosity, keen mind and boundless spirit touch all of those around him. I had the great fortune to teach him twice, and in both instances, he made large lectures feel like intimate seminars. His passion and the openness with which he asked telling questions was as infectious as it was transformative. In subtle but fundamental ways, he changed how his fellow students thought about literature – and how this UCI lifer thinks about teaching it! Truly, this university has been lucky to have Anthony with us.”

– Michael Szalay, professor of English and film and media studies

Read more #IamUCI – Class of 2024 stories