Tracy K. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a professor at Princeton University, will give her inaugural reading as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
The historic reading, which launches the Library’s 2017-2018 literary season and marks the beginning of Smith’s laureateship, will be held in the Coolidge Auditorium on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. A book signing and reception will follow.
Before Smith takes the stage, National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, a sophomore at Harvard University and a native of Los Angeles, will open the event by reading an original poem. She was named the country’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate in April, chosen from five finalists representing five regions across the country.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden appointed Smith the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in June. Hayden called Smith “a poet of searching” and praised how “her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture.” Hayden said Smith “contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths—all to better understand what makes us most human.”
Smith is the author of three books of poetry, including “Life on Mars” (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; “Duende” (2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award; and “The Body’s Question” (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the author of a memoir, “Ordinary Light” (2015), a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction and selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In its review of “Life on Mars,” the New York Times stated, “Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. … As all the best poetry does, ‘Life on Mars’ first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”
For her poetry, Smith has received a Rona Jaffe Writers Award and a Whiting Award. In 2014, the Academy of American Poets awarded her with the Academy Fellowship, given to one poet each year to recognize distinguished poetic achievement. In 2016, she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award and was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence.
Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, in 1972 and raised in Fairfield, California, Smith earned a B.A. in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Columbia University. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.
Before becoming the National Youth Poet Laureate, Gorman was the inaugural Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate and the first Youth Poet Laureate of the West. She is the author of the poetry collection “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough” (2015) and the founder and executive director of One Pen One Page, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy and leadership through creative writing workshops.
The National Youth Poet Laureate Program is an initiative of Urban Word, in collaboration with local youth literary arts organizations across the country and The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The program is championed by leading national literary organizations, including the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, PEN Center USA, and Cave Canem. In 2008, Urban Word launched the program, the nation’s first ever, in partnership with the NYC Voters Assistance Commission and the NYC Mayor’s Office. In 2013, Urban Word worked with local youth literary arts organizations to launch Youth Poet Laureate programs in 10 cities and since then has grown the program to serve more than 35 cities and states nationally. This past year, the program honored the country’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles, California.
The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center fosters and enhances the public’s appreciation of literature. To this end, the center administers the endowed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry position, coordinates an annual season of readings, performances, lectures, conferences and symposia, and sponsors high-profile prizes and fellowships for literary writers. For more information, visit loc.gov/poetry
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