Tracy K. Smith, now in her second term as Poet laureate of the United States, writes poems of beauty and challenge, both “mysterious and utterly lucid,” in the words of Elizabeth Alexander. She has published four volumes of poetry, most recently Wade in the Water (2018), an unblinking reckoning with the offenses of our contemporary world, and the historical soil from which that world has grown:
Even the men in black armor, the ones
Jangling handcuffs and keys, what else
Are they so buffered against, if not love’s blade
Sizing up the heart’s familiar meat?
We watch and grieve. We sleep, stir, eat.
Love: the heart sliced open, gutted, clean.
Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2012, for Life On Mars (2011). Early in her career, she won the Cave Canem Prize in 2002 for best first book by an African American poet, and the Whiting Award for Poetry in 2005, also in honor of emerging writers. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was shortlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015.
When Smith took on the role of Poet laureate, she announced her desire to talk to people across the country who perhaps have little access to poetry or poets. She will appear at the year’s opening First Thursdays festival on September 6, and the next day in Franklin, Indiana. For both events, IU’s own Adrian Matejka—who is Indiana’s current Poet laureate—will be in conversation with Smith. And she will meet with students in the Center for Research in Race and Ethnicity in Society.
Tracy K. Smith is one of this year’s CAHI Distinguished Speakers, and her visit is also supported by the Arts and Humanities Council, the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society, and the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs.