5 Things You Didn’t Know About Tracy K. Smith, Our Newest Poet Laureate

tracy k smith poet laureate factsJason DeCrow

Last week (June 14), the Library of Congress appointed Tracy K. Smith as the United States’ 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (2017-2018). Smith’s tenure will begin this September and she will be expected to give an inaugural reading of her work as poet laureate at Coolidge Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

So to welcome Smith into her new role, here are five lesser-known facts you should know about her:

1. The basics first

tracy k smith facts married raphael allison
Ozier Muhammad for The New York Times

Tracy K. Smith was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts on April 16, 1972, but was raised in Fairfield, California by her mother, an educator, and her engineer father, who assisted with the Hubble telescope. After graduating from Harvard University with her artium baccalaureus (a degree exclusive to the university), Smith later received a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Columbia University in 1994, and became a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University.

She is married to poet and fellow Princeton scholar of 20th-century American poetry, Raphael Allison, whom Smith shares three children.

2. She has an impressive canon

tracy k smith poetry poet laureate collections
Graywolf Press (3) / Knopf

A stranger by no stretch of the imagination, Smith is the revered author of three poetry anthologies—including, Life on Mars (2011), Duende (2007) and The Body’s Question (2003).

Her debut coming-of-age memoir, Ordinary Light, doubles as an observation of race and religion and the relationship she shared with her mother. Ordinary Light was a contender for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015.

3. She’s a Pulitzer Prize winner

In 2012, Smith was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her most recent volume to date, Life on Mars. A collection distinguished by its flush of extraterrestrial themes and pop culture nods to the likes of David BowieLife on Mars is rated for its surreal examination of the human experience, circulating on themes of life, grief, and spirituality.

4. Inspired by Dickinson and Twain

tracy k smith facts
James Estrin for The New York Times

In her 2015 memoir Ordinary Light, Smith admitted her fixation with poetry came after reading Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain in elementary school, comparing the art as being “privy to magic.” “I couldn’t help but memorize a poem whose meter had worked upon me quickly and in a way, I didn’t quite yet understand,” Smith writes. “Its rhyme scheme cemented, for me, a new sense of inevitability.”

5. She teaches at Princeton

Smith is the standing Director of Creative Writing at Princeton University and has been teaching creative writing at the institution since 2005. Previous to Princeton, Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College, University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.

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