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Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet & U.S. Poet Laureate (2017 – 2019)


Tracy K. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, memoirist, editor, translator and librettist. She served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017-19, during which time she spearheaded American Conversations: Celebrating Poetry in Rural Communities with the Library of Congress, created the American Public Media podcast The Slowdown, and edited the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time.

Smith is the author of five poetry collections: Such Color: New and Selected Poems, which won the 2022 New England Book Award; Wade in the Water, which was awarded the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Life on Mars, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize; Duende, winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets; and The Body’s Question, which received the 2003 Cave Canem Prize. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction. She is the co-translator (with Changtai Bi) of My Name Will Grow Wide like a Tree: Selected Poems of Yi Lei, which was a finalist for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize; and co-editor (with John Freeman) of There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis. Her memoir-manifesto, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul, was a Time magazine and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice.

Smith wrote the libretti for three operas; Castor and Patience, in collaboration with composer Gregory Spears, is rooted in a conflict over historically black-owned land. The work premiered with the Cincinnati Opera in July 2022. The other, A Marvelous Order, with composer Judd Greenstein and video artist Joshua Frankel, is about two competing visions of progress in New York City. She also wrote a Civil War Oratorio with Aaron Siegel titled I Will Tell You the Truth About This, I Will Tell You All About It. Her newest libretto is for The Righteous with composer Gregory Spears which will make its world premiere on July 13, 2024 at the Santa Fe Opera. 

Among Smith’s other honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Academy Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, the Harvard Arts Medal, the Columbia Medal for Excellence, a Smithsonian Ingenuity Award and an Essence Literary Award. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She is also the recipient of Chicago's 2024 Harold Washington Literary Award.

She is a Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and a Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute.


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