Tracy K. Smith wasn’t on Graywolf Press’s original list of authors to bring to Book Expo this year. After all, Smith’s collection of poems, Life on Mars, was released in May 2011. And as anyone attending BEA will tell you, a book published last year is ancient history here in the halls of Javits, where everybody is focused on what’s coming down the publishing pipeline.
April 16 changed all that for Smith, and for Graywolf. On that day, Smith, a Princeton University professor who teaches creative writing, was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Life on Mars—which earned her a ticket to BEA from her home in Brooklyn.
According to Graywolf editor Jeff Shotts, the honor—a first for Graywolf, although poet Elizabeth Alexander was a finalist for a 2006 Pulitzer Prize—was not wholly unexpected. While Smith’s first two collections from Graywolf, Duende and The Body’s Question, sold 2,300 copies each—which Shotts called “solid sales”—Life on Mars had sold 7,000 copies before the announcement of Smith’s Pulitzer win. That’s achieving bestseller status for a collection of poetry from a literary press.
“Her profile was rising,” Shotts recalls. “We had high expectations.” Within six weeks of the book’s release last spring, it had received a full-page review in the New Yorker, complete with a line drawing of Smith’s head; a full-page review in the New York Times Book Review; and another, shorter review in a weekday edition of the New York Times. Life on Mars was also included in a number of consumer and trade media year-end lists of the most noteworthy books of 2011.
“It was receiving the kind of attention that would lead to such a prize,” Shotts says of the book, and discloses that although he’s worked with plenty of Pulitzer Prize–winning authors, he’s never before edited a book that actually won a Pulitzer, so he felt really good when the announcement was made.
Life on Mars has gone into its fourth print run, of 10,000 copies, so that there are a total of 17,000 copies in print. Shotts is confident that with the attention accorded it by the Pulitzer Prize, Life on Mars is going to sell out “within two years,” necessitating a fifth trip to the printer for a collection that Shotts hopes will resonate with readers for a long time.
Smith is signing copies of Life on Mars at Graywolf’s booth, 3463, today, 10–11 a.m.