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Sun, 04.16.1972

Tracy K. Smith, Poet, and Educator born

Tracy K. Smith

*Tracy K. Smith was born on this date in 1972.  She is a Black poet and educator.

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, she was raised in Fairfield, California; her family heritage is from Alabama. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was an engineer who worked on the Hubble telescope. Smith became interested in writing and poetry as a child, reading Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain in elementary school.

Dickinson's poems, in particular, struck Smith as working like "magic," she wrote in her memoir, with the rhyme and meter making Dickinson's verses feel almost impossible not to commit to memory. Smith then composed a short poem entitled "Humor" and showed it to her fifth-grade teacher, who encouraged her to keep writing. The work of Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Rita Dove also became significant influences.

Smith received her A.B. from Harvard University, where she joined the Dark Room Collective.  She graduated in 1994, then earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 1997. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University.  In 2005, she joined the faculty of Princeton University, where she is a professor of creative writing.   

She has published three poetry collections, winning the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 volume Life on Mars. About this collection, Joel Brouwer wrote in 2011: "Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition...As all the best poetry does, Life on Mars first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled."    Smith was a judge for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize. She began serving as the 52nd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2017 and was nominated for a second term. 

Smith lives in Princeton, NJ, with her husband, Raphael Allison, and their three children.   Her husband is an assistant professor of literature at Bard College. They previously lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

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