Librarian of Congress re-appoints Pulitzer Prize-winning poet for prestigious national post to expand outreach efforts to rural communities in 2018-19
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the re-appointment of Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2018-2019. In her second term, Smith will continue the outreach efforts begun in her first term to engage rural communities and small towns across America with poetry. Smith will report on her outreach activities and introduce expanded plans for her second term on April 19th at the Library of Congress at an event entitled “Staying Human: Poetry in the Age of Technology.” In the Coolidge Auditorium, Smith will read poems and participate in a discussion with Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post’s Book World and host of the Library of Congress’ “Life of a Poet” series.
Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Professor of Creative Writing, the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University, and Director of the University’s Program in Creative Writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts. She was also recently named to succeed current chair Michael Cadden as new chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts beginning July 1, 2019.
“I am thrilled that Tracy K. Smith has accepted my invitation to continue sharing her poetry with the nation,” Hayden said. “Her exchanges with Americans in small towns and rural communities are inspiring an appreciation of poetry and history – and remind us that poetry has value for all of our lives.”
“Poetry invites us to listen to other voices, to make space for other perspectives, and to care about the lives of others who may not look, sound or think like ourselves,” Smith said upon learning of her reappointment from the Librarian of Congress. “My project as Poet Laureate has brought me into contact with rural communities in the South and Southwest, and not only do we recognize and have many things to say to each other, but talking about poems together allows us to access and share our feelings and bear witness to the experiences that shape our lives. I’m excited to pursue this project further over the next year.”
A New Anthology
In her second term, Smith will unveil American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, a new anthology of poems she selected that offer 50 different outlooks on America, including stories of loss, experiences of immigrants, outcries of injustice, and celebrations of America’s diversity. The anthology shares its title with a poem by Robert Hayden, the first African American appointed as the U.S. Poet Laureate. Smith chose poems by award-winning poets Mark Doty, Ross Gay, Terrance Hayes, Laura Kasischke, Mary Szybist, Natasha Trethewey, Charles Wright, and others for American Journal, which will be published in September 2018 by Graywolf Press in association with the Library of Congress.
As she travels to more rural communities across America, Smith will incorporate the new anthology into her visits. “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time is an offering for people who love poems the way I do,” Smith says in her introduction to the anthology. “It is also an offering for those who love them in different ways and those who don’t yet know what their relationship with poetry will be.”
About the Poet Laureate
Smith, a resident of Princeton, continues a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, Rita Dove, William Meredith, Princeton Class of 1940, and W.S. Merwin, Princeton Class of 1948. Allen Tate, who served as Poet Laureate in 1943-44, helped to found the Program in Creative Writing at Princeton. He was hired in 1939 as the first Resident Fellow in Creative Writing to “act as general adviser to undergraduates interested in writing and will be in general charge of the new plan designed to further the work of entering freshman in creative writing.”
Smith is the author of four books of poetry, including Wade in the Water (April 2018); 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.
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 2015, she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award and in 2016 was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence.
In the Pulitzer Prize citation for Life on Mars, judges lauded its “bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.” Toi Derricotte, poet and Academy of American Poets chancellor, said, “The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes.”
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. In addition to Princeton, Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Columbia University.
Background of the Laureateship
The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry — a position which the law states “is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United States.”
During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the 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.
For more information on the Poet Laureate and the Poetry and Literature Center, visit loc.gov/poetry/. Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service can be found at loc.gov/poetry/laureate-2011-present.html. To learn more about Poet Laureate projects, visit loc.gov/poetry/laureate-projects.html.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
About Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing
Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing, now in its 79th year, is unique in its focus exclusively on undergraduate students by practicing, award-winning writers, including Jeffrey Eugenides, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyun Li, Paul Muldoon, James Richardson, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Susan Wheeler, and a number of distinguished visiting lecturers. Small workshop courses, averaging eight to ten students, provide intensive feedback and instruction for both beginning and advanced writers. Through the Program, students can earn a certificate in creative writing in addition to their degree in a major. Each year, 20 to 30 seniors work individually with a member of the faculty on a creative writing thesis, such as a novel, screenplay, or a collection of short stories, poems, or translations.
The Program annually presents the Althea Ward Clark W’21 Reading Series which brings renowned writers to campus for public readings, including many past Poet Laureates, and the C.K. Williams Reading Series, hosted by the seniors in the program to showcase their work and provide them the opportunity to read with and learn from established writers they admire. The series is named in honor of Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning poet C. K. Williams, who served on Princeton’s creative writing faculty for twenty years.
The Program is part of the Lewis Center for the Arts, which also encompasses the Programs in Dance, Music Theater, Theater and Visual Arts and the Princeton Atelier, founded by Princeton Professor, Emeritus, Toni Morrison.
To learn more about the Program in Creative Writing at Princeton, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the more than 100 performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures annually presented at the Lewis Center, most of them free, visit arts.princeton.edu.