NPR's Michel Martin begins its series for Poetry Month with Poet Laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith. Listen to the interview here.
Born on April 16, 1972, Tracy K. Smith was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and raised in Fairfield, California. She is the youngest of five children. She studied at Harvard, where she joined the Dark Room Collective, a reading series for writers of color. She went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University.
Smith’s first collection, The Body’s Question (Graywolf Press, 2003), won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 2002. Her second book, Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007), won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In April 2018, Graywolf Press will publish her book Wade in the Water.
A starred review of Smith’s work in Publisher’s Weekly noted her “lyric brilliance and political impulses.” A review of Duende in The New York Times Book Review stated, “The most persuasively haunted poems here are those where [Smith] casts herself not simply as a dutiful curator of personal history but a canny medium of fellow feeling and the stirrings of the collective unconscious...it’s this charged air of rapt apprehension that gives her spare, fluid lines their coolly incantatory tenor.”
Smith is the recipient of the 2014 Academy of American Poets Fellowship. About Tracy K. Smith, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Toi Derricotte said: “The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes. The Academy is fortunate to be able to confer this fitting recognition on one of the most important poets of our time.”
In 2017, Smith was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. Her other awards and honors include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, a 2004 Rona Jaffe Writers Award, a 2008 Essence Literary Award, a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, a fellowship from the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and a 2005 Whiting Award. She is the director of Princeton University’s creative writing program and lives in New Jersey.