Tracy K. Smith was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on April 16, 1972, and raised in Fairfield, California. She studied at Harvard University, where she joined the Dark Room Collective, a reading series for writers of color, created by Sharan Strange in 1988. She went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University.
Smith is the author of four poetry collections, including Such Color: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2021); Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018), winner of the 2019 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, and shortlisted for the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize. Her debut collection, The Body’s Question (Graywolf Press, 2003), won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 2002. Her second book, Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007), won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her collection Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011) won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She also edited the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time (Graywolf Press, 2018).
A starred review of Smith’s work in Publisher’s Weekly noted her “lyric brilliance and political impulses.” A review of Duende in The New York Times Book Review stated,
The most persuasively haunted poems here are those where [Smith] casts herself not simply as a dutiful curator of personal history but a canny medium of fellow feeling and the stirrings of the collective unconscious...it’s this charged air of rapt apprehension that gives her spare, fluid lines their coolly incantatory tenor.
The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes. The Academy is fortunate to be able to confer this fitting recognition on one of the most important poets of our time.
In 2017, Smith was appointed poet laureate of the United States. Her other awards and honors include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, a 2004 Rona Jaffe Writers Award, a 2008 Essence Literary Award, a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, a fellowship from the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and a 2005 Whiting Award. She was the Poem-a-Day Guest Editor for April 2019 and 2018, and the director of Princeton University’s creative writing program. In 2021, Smith was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in New Jersey.