Books · Poetry · Writing

Tracy K. Smith named United States Poet Laureate by Tracy Diane Miller #amwriting #poetry

My name is Tracy Miller. I founded Arlene Miller Creative Writing in memory of my mother Arlene Miller (August 24, 1924-May 10, 2005) to recognize & support all forms of creative expression.


Tracy K. Smith named United States Poet Laureate by Tracy Diane Miller

In 1972 when I was 7 years old, I told my mother that I wanted to become a Poet Laureate when I grew up. I never realized that dream, but I’m grateful that I was able to publish my poetry books in 2016 and transition from a legal career to a full-time writing career. In 1987 when I was a first year law student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, my passion for writing remained a quiet ache in my soul as I embarked along another road that God had placed me.

Today, I was thrilled to learn that poet and educator Tracy K. Smith was named as the United States Poet Laureate. At 45 years old, Smith is young recipient of such a prestigious honor.

For little girls of color in particular who might have allowed themselves to become lost in the world of poetry, or embraced the beautiful, authentic gift of a poem, seeing Smith achieve the highest honor that America bestows on a poet is a moment that they can celebrate and cherish for years to come.

Massachusetts born Smith earned a B.A. from Harvard University and a Masters of Creative Writing from Columbia University. In addition, she received a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Tracy K. Smith authored three acclaimed poetry books: “The Body’s Question”(2003), “Duende” (2007) and “Life on Mars” (2011). “Life on Mars” won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 2015, she published her stunning memoir, “Ordinary Light” (a National Book Award Finalist for Non Fiction).

Smith is a Director of Creative Writing at Princeton University. In a recent interview with PBS News Hour when she was announced as the United States Poet Laureate, Smith noted that “language can be a real tool of revelation” and feels that her new position will enable her to share this process of revelation with her fellow Americans.

Questions of faith and race frame Smith’s poetic voice. She explained that her parents “grew up in the segregated South. Alot of that was shaped by a sense of sadness and a sense of anxiety” that made her “not want to talk about it.” Yet, these silences were something that Smith wanted to explore through her writing.

I was especially struck by the rawness and honesty in which Smith speaks of her parents’ experiences with segregation. My mother was a child of segregated Virginia in the 1930s and I know that the things she saw and experienced in her life were the reason why she was so adamant in teaching her children to reject segregation. I feel that poetry is also a profound and inclusive vehicle: Hatred has no place in poetry becomes poetry emanates from a giving, aware heart that challenges and denounces this kind of evil.

Smith teaches her students that “a poem isn’t just an expression of all these things that you’re feeling, but it’s a set of choices that you’re making in language. Every description, every question, every statement, every turn is a choice that opens up or closes off certain possibilities.” For Smith, poems remind us of the importance of being better citizens. America’s newest poet laureate compassionately and correctly realizes that each of us harbors a story and our stories help us to “listen better and connect with others.”


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