Tracy K. Smith, American poet and educator, was appointed the 22nd United States Poet Laureate in 2017. She is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Ordinary Light (Knopf, 2015)—a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Nonfiction and selected as a Notable Book by the New York Times and Washington Post—as well as four books of poetry. Her 2012 collection of poems, Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), won the 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. In 2014 the Academy of American Poets awarded Smith with the Academy Fellowship, awarded to one poet each year to recognize distinguished poetic achievement. In 2016 she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award. Her most recent collection, Wade in the Water (Graywolf, 2018), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, boldly ties America’s contemporary moment both to the nation’s fraught founding history and to a sense of the spirit, the everlasting.
At times political, whimsical, and always meditative, Smith’s poems 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—or as in Smith’s 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 is the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Commencement will take place on May 17, 2019 at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall. For more information on MMC’s commencement, click here.