Tracy K. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Duende (2007) won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award. The Body’s Question (2003) was the winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith was the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers Award in 2004 and a Whiting Award in 2005.
Smith’s poems embody the lyrical, rhythmic quality of masters such as Lorca. At times political, whimsical, and always meditative, they speak largely to the role of art and to the conception of what it means to be American, dealing with the “evolution and decline of the culture we belong to.” Her work also explores the dichotomy between the ordered world and the irrationality of the self, the importance of submitting oneself willingly to the “ongoing conflict” of life and surviving nonetheless. For Smith, in her own words, poetry is a way of “stepping into the mess of experience.”
After her undergraduate work at Harvard, Smith earned her MFA at Columbia before going on to be a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University and has also taught at Columbia, City University of New York, and the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Brooklyn. Check out the videos of Tracy below, and be sure to catch her at this year’s Burlington Book Festival as part of the 6th annual Grace Paley Poetry Series on Saturday, September 22. Tracy will read at 4 PM in the Film House at Main Street Landing’s Performing Arts Center.
Tracy K. Smith reading from Life on Mars:
Tracy reading as part of the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series in May 2012:
Tracy reads “Alternate Take: Levon Helm”:
Tracy K. Smith at the Rutgers-Camden Summer Writers’ Conference: