Tracy K. Smith has been named the 22nd poet laureate of the United States. Smith's poetry has won her such top awards in her field as the James Laughlin Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and, for her 2011 collection Life on Mars, the Pulitzer Prize.
Smith, the first poet laureate appointed by new librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera in the position, and will take up her duties in the fall. Her first appearance as poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress—the official title—will be a reading of her work at the Coolidge Auditorium in Washington, D.C., in September.
"I am profoundly honored," Smith said in a statement. "As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country."
Smith is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars, the Laughlin Award–winning Duende, and the Cave Canem Poetry Prize–winning The Body's Question. Each was published by Graywolf Press. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award. In addition to the aforementioned honors, she has won a Whiting Award, a Robert Creeley Award, a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, and Columbia University's Medal for Excellence.
Smith currently serves as the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University. Her fourth poetry collection, Wade in the Water, is forthcoming in April 2018.
“Tracy K. Smith is the poet that we need as Poet Laureate right now. Across three published poetry collections, and in her forthcoming one, she shows us an America that is infinite and that is made of a boundless music,” Graywolf executive editor Jeff Shotts said in a statement. “Smith’s appointment is an inspiring choice, and her presence in the laureateship will be beautiful and enlivening.”
Other poets to have held the position include Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, and Rita Dove. The position has existed since 1937 and requires its holder to, according the Library of Congress, "raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry," a duty that has historically been interpreted differently by each holder of the title.
"It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching," Hayden said. "Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths-all to better understand what makes us most human."