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Pulitzer Prize-winning poet to speak on May 15

Start Date: May 15 7:00 PM
This event is open to the public

Tracy K. Smith, the author of three books of poetry as well as a critically acclaimed memoir released just this year, will speak on Friday, May 15 at 7 p.m. in Kemper Auditorium in the Elson Art Center on Chapel Avenue on the campus of Phillips Academy. The event is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow her reading.

Smith won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Life on Mars, a collection of poetry published in 2011. 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 March of this year, Smith published a memoir, Ordinary Light, that Booklist calls “a gracefully nuanced yet strikingly candid memoir about family, faith, race, and literature” and praises Smith for her ability to “hold our intellectual and emotional attention ever so tightly as she charts her evolving thoughts on the divides between races, generations, economic classes, religion and science and celebrates her lifesaving discovery of poetry as ‘soul language.’”

Smith’s poems embody the lyrical, rhythmic quality of masters such as Federico Garcí­a 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 Princeton.

This event is sponsored by the Sandra Isham Vreeland Fund.

Contact Info

  • Kevin O'Connor, English instructor
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