Sarah Smiley ’12
In the very first few weeks after the release of Sarah Smiley’s ’12G third book, she was already winning attention and praise from literary critics. Smiley, a recent UMaine Communication and Journalism Department alum, was born in San Diego to a military family, but grew up in Virginia Beach. She spent much of her childhood on Navy bases. Smiley married a Navy pilot later in life, and used her decades of experience with military family life as a basis for her musings and memoirs.
Smiley holds her B.S. in Education from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated with her master’s in Mass Communication from the University of Maine in 2012. She was an active member in the department, and held a Teaching Assistantship which allowed her to instruct an undergraduate journalism course for four semesters. Today, Sarah Smiley, her husband Dustin Smiley and their three boys call Bangor, Maine home.
Smiley has made a living from writing primarily about her own personal experiences since 2002. Smiley’s first literary turn came as a columnist in Florida. When she and her family were stationed in Jacksonville, Smiley began writing a column entitled “On the Homefront,” for the local military base’s publication. Soon after, when the Smiley’s relocated to Pensacola, Smiley pitched her column to the Pensacola News Journal and within a year, her first weekly column began appearing. Within a month, Sarah Smiley self-syndicated the column to various newspapers and her voice now reaches more than 11 different publications and 2 million readers each week.
Her columns and three books are all funny, poignant, and personal, offering anecdotes about managing three rambunctious sons, about the role of the military in today’s society and in her own life, and about her marriage to a Navy man. Many have credited her candor about military life as “trailblazing,” because it is often considered taboo for military wives to speak openly about the difficulty of managing day-to-day family life.
Dinner with the Smiley’s is a personal memoir about coping specifically with deployment. The book is a story about a scheme devised by Smiley and her sons. When Dustin Smiley departed for his year-long deployment, the rest of the Smiley clan invited 52 different guests to take turns filling Dustin’s chair at the table.
Why did she choose to do 52 weeks of dinners? As Smiley explains on her website, “dinnertime is often the loneliest time for people living alone. If houses and apartments were like dollhouses with one side totally exposed, we’d see plenty of people eating alone to the glow of a television.”
And that was precisely what Smiley wanted to avoid while her husband served overseas. So she and her sons set to work inviting a host of people, ranging from pastors to professional athletes to comedians to politicians.
Mary Ellms, ’13G, was a classmate of Smiley’s in the communication master’s program at UMaine. She was also an attendee to one of the 52 dinners at the Smiley house, and she says it is truly an inspirational tale of hometown heroes.
Ellms says, “Dinner with the Smiley’s is an important tale of community and support” and adds, “I feel so proud of the people of Bangor who came alongside this family and said, ‘You’re one of us. We will take care of you.’”
Sarah Smiley thinks there is an important message in sharing a meal together, as well. She writes, “in a time when popular culture leads us to believe that the family dinner table is dead, Dinner with the Smileys shows people that time spent with family, friends, and neighbors is still very much part of the American lifestyle.”
Dinner with the Smiley’s is available on Amazon.com and wherever print books are sold. You can find more information about the Smiley’s and Sarah’s previously published works at sarahsmiley.com.