Congratulations to Tracy K. Smith, our newest poet laureate!


Tracy K. Smith, who in 2012 won the Pulitzer Prize for Life On Mars, will be our newest poet laureate, beginning this fall. She is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford.

According to the press release, “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 human.”

She succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera, another poet with Stanford links, in this case, a degree in anthropology from Stanford. He has served as poet laureate since 2015.

When I interviewed Tracy after her Pulitzer, she was bubbly and courteous.  She talked about her upbringing and her father, who had been one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. I have no notes that I can find (they’re somewhere, really, they’re somewhere),

Turning 40 is a landmark for many, and poet Tracy Smith was no exception. She planned to celebrate in style with champagne. But what she didn’t expect was the biggest present ever: her husband told her The New York Times website had just announced that she’d won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in poetry. …

Pulitzer prizewinner Smith, at Stanford from 1997 to 1999, said her years at Stanford “pushed me to move towards a mature sense of what I was doing. To be honest, I didn’t know how to do that.”

The program’s focus on moving from manuscript to book “frees you from the person you were as a student and into what you will be as a poet.”

Smith, now an assistant professor at Princeton, was awarded for her collection Life on Mars. The New York Times called her “a poet of extraordinary range and ambition” whose book “first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

According to the Washington Postshe was caught offguard this time, too: “I was stunned,” she said from her office at Princeton University, where she is director of creative writing. “It took me a minute to take it in and think about it, and then, of course, I was immensely honored and started thinking about all the ways I could lend my voice to the celebration of poetry on the national stage.”

She has written two other poetry collections, in addition to Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011) and a memoir, Ordinary Light (Knopf, 2015).


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