Princeton’s Tracy K. Smith named U.S. Poet Laureate

Tracy K. Smith. Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Tracy K. Smith, a professor of creative writing at Princeton University and a Princeton resident, has been named the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States by the librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.

“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching,” Hayden said. “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. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths — all to better understand what makes us most human.”

Smith, 45, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her collection “Life on Mars.” Her other two books of poetry are “Duende”, winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award, and “The Body’s Question”, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the author the memoir, “Ordinary Light”, a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction.

For her poetry, Smith has received a Rona Jaffe Writers Award and a Whiting Award. In 2014, the Academy of American Poets awarded her the Academy Fellowship, given to one poet each year for distinguished poetic achievement. In 2015, she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award and in 2016 was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence.

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1972 and raised in Fairfield, California, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University, and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith also has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.

During their terms, poet laureates seek to increase the public’s appreciation of reading and writing of poetry. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the poet laureate, who opens the literary season in the fall and closes it in the spring. In recent years, laureates have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.

“As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic and resourceful culture,” Smith said. “I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”

Juan Felipe Herrera is the current laureate. Smith’s tenure for 2017-18 will begin in September.

“A brilliant artist and a deeply engaged member of the Princeton community, Tracy will now have even more opportunities to engage with communities across the country about how poetry addresses what it is to live fully, deeply and consciously at this particular moment in time,” Lewis Center Chair Michael Cadden said. “When she lifts her voice, we would all do well to attend to what she has to say and how she has to say it.”