Patricia Smith

1955 –

Patricia Smith is a poet, teacher, and performance artist. She is the author of Unshuttered (Northwestern University Press, 2023); Incendiary Art (Northwestern University Press, 2017), winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, given for the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States each year; Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008), which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award; Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006), a 2005 National Poetry Series selection; Close to Death (Zoland Books, 1993); Big Towns, Big Talk (Zoland Books, 1992), which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award; and Life According to Motown (Tía Chucha Press, 1991).

Of Smith’s award-winning book, judge Gregory Orr wrote,

With equal parts art, attitude, and heart, Patricia Smith’s Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah braids together personal narrative and a collective cultural journey. In poems propelled by voice and verve, she moves through the urbanscapes of Chicago and Detroit—conjuring first love and Motown with equal fervor. Her poems simultaneously zip along the textured surface of these worlds and plunge to the soul-depths of the people who inhabit them. And we, her spellbound audience, follow in her sonic wake, grateful to be part of stories so alive with detail and urgent with anguish and purpose.

Smith’s poems have been published in many anthologies, including The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (Random House, 2021), edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones; 100 Best African American Poems: A Black Poetry Collection (Sourcebooks/ MediaFusion, 2010), edited by Nikki GiovanniThe Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), edited by Arnold Rampersad and Hilary Herbold; American Voices (McGraw-Hill, 2005); The Spoken Word Revolution: Slam, Hip-hop & the Poetry of a New Generation (Sourcebooks/MediaFusion, 2003); and Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Three Rivers Press, 2001). Smith edited the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir (Akashic Books, 2021), and her contribution, the story “When They Are Done With Us,” won the Robert L. Fish Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Début Story, in addition to being featured in Best American Mystery Stories. She is also the co-author of the history book Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998) and the children’s book Janna and the Kings (Lee & Low Books, 2003). 

Smith is a winner of the Poetry Foundation’s 2021 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement. She is a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, making her the most successful poet in the competition’s history, and a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize. In 2023, Smith was the recipient of the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. 

Smith has written and performed two one-woman plays, one of which was produced by Derek Walcott’s Trinidad Theater Workshop. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017. In 2010, a dance/theater production based on Blood Dazzler was staged at Harlem Stage in New York. Smith is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She is also a Cave Canem faculty member and a professor of creative writing at the City University of New York/College of Staten Island and Princeton University. In February 2023, Smith served as Guest Editor of the Poem-a-Day series. She lives in Monmouth County, New Jersey. In January 2023, Smith was elected to become a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.