Diane Smith, founder and editor of Grey Sparrow Press, received a 2020 Emerging Leader Award from the Harvard Extension Alumni Association. Here’s what she had to say about her time at Harvard Extension and her plans for the future.

What brought you to Harvard Extension?

I came to the Harvard Extension School to learn about Islam, the second-largest religion in the world. Professor Aaron Spevack offered a class titled “Islam: Thought and Practice.” At the time, I was working on a novella titled Balancing against the Wind. The U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered in Keyse G. Jama v. the INS, subsequently ICE, inspired the work. When I registered for that class in the summer of 2013, I did not intend to complete a second master’s degree.

Professor Spevack’s intimate understanding of Islam offered a unique and enlightening perspective. I gained a deeper understanding of the teachings of Mohammed. I believe it also enhanced my writing on the subject. When the class was over, I decided the journalism program could help me support a literary 501[c]3 I founded in 2009, Grey Sparrow Press, as well as help me with my writing.

Who were some of the most influential instructors, advisors, or staffers you worked with?

Professor and attorney Allan Ryan’s class, “The Constitution and the Media,” was mandatory for Journalism students. I was afraid to take the class. The Constitution taught by a brilliant lawyer felt daunting at best. He lectured on America’s constitutional history and its relationship to journalism. What I learned applies to so many things beyond journalism including politics. Last year, I was developing an article on SLAPP lawsuits. Professor Ryan graciously recommended resources and links I could explore.

Preceptor Nicholas Manley [Video Field Production] taught me the basics. To this day, he offers helpful advice when I write him. I wish I could take an advanced class from him. Perhaps in the future I will be able to do that. I love producing short documentaries—it does take a long time from development to completion.

Professor Garibaldi explored complex organizational and cultural concepts in business. As the founder and manager of Grey Sparrow [2009], a 501[c]3 modest literary press, I was able to improve communication and problem solving skills. I know Grey Sparrow became a better press and community organization due to his business class.

Tell me about the work you’ve done since graduating from Harvard Extension.

Grey Sparrow Press is publishing an anniversary issue covering ten years of publication from 2009 to 2019. Poetry, flash fiction, and short stories from Snow Jewel and Grey Sparrow, two literary journals published by Grey Sparrow Press, will showcase the work of approximately 90 authors. Its publication date is December 31, 2020. The bi-annual online issue of Grey Sparrow Journal will be live January 31, 2021.  

Did your experience at Harvard Extension change your career trajectory? How? 

Yes. In a nano-crazy moment, I started producing video documentaries after taking classes at Harvard—what a joy, thanks to Preceptor Nicholas Manley who shared his experience and knowledge of field production. Professor Kuzmick guided my first, short documentary, “No Room at the Inn, stories of the Homeless in Harvard Square.” Videography was part of Preceptor Kuzmick’s larger class that addressed multi-media presentations. It aired on Spare Change News community television. The only camera I owned prior to my classes at Harvard was a Brownie.

What’s next for you?

“Cactus Cradle” is in production with poets from the Tucson Poetry Center [University of Arizona.] A short video portrays the Tucson poetry scene.