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Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate: A Resource Guide

About Tracy K. Smith at the Library of Congress

Tracy K. Smith served as the Library of Congress's 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry from 2017-2019. The links below provide more information about her activities at the Library, including webcasts, blog posts, and related news releases.

On June 14, 2017, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the appointment of Tracy K. Smith as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. On making the appointment, Dr. Hayden said:

It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching. 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.

Smith took up her duties in fall 2017, opening the Library’s annual literary season on September 13, 2017 with a reading of her work in the Jefferson Building's Coolidge Auditorium. In January 2018, Smith began one of her major projects External as Poet Laureate: taking poetry to audiences outside places where poets typically present their work. As she described in a February 2018 visit to Emory University External:

I wanted to go into the more rural communities that don’t have programming on a consistent basis, where people’s lives are equally affected by the kinds of questions and memories that poems can draw upon. If writers and scholars are only talking to each other, we’re missing out on a huge part of the story.

Elaborating on the inspiration behind her rural communities project in an April 2018 Library of Congress podcast, Smith said:

I wanted to sort of step off the path of the circuit. I wanted to feel the difference between doing what I normally do which is reading poems as part of a reading series or festivals—communities of writers—and reading poems in places where there are probably aspiring poets and lovers of poetry and then people who aren’t as connected to the art form who might come out of curiosity. I wanted to see if it’s true that the feelings that poems alert us to transcend different divisions of place, of, you know, almost everything, geography being one of them (and, of course, there are lots of things that geography is a container for as well). So I wanted to see what it would feel like to, kind of, cross different divides, and it’s been exciting.

During her first term, Smith took three pilot project trips to rural communities in New Mexico External, South Carolina External, and Kentucky External. On March 22, 2018, Smith was appointed to a second term as Poet Laureate, during which she expanded her outreach efforts to rural communities.

At the close of her first term, Smith offered the following comment on her Poet Laureate project:

Poetry invites us to listen to other voices, to make space for other perspectives, and to care about the lives of others who may not look, sound or think like ourselves. My project as Poet Laureate has brought me into contact with rural communities in the South and Southwest, and not only do we recognize and have many things to say to each other, but talking about poems together allows us to access and share our feelings and bear witness to the experiences that shape our lives. I’m excited to pursue this project further over the next year.

Smith's first term officially closed on April 19, 2018. Her concluding program, “Staying Human: Poetry in the Age of Technology," featured a talk followed by a discussion with Washington Post book critic Ron Charles:

Smith's major project during her second term was American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities, which continued her first-term rural communities pilot project. As she describes:

​American Conversations chronicles my first-term trips to New Mexico, Kentucky and South Carolina, and it will continue to track my adventures with poetry in Alaska, South Dakota, Maine and Louisiana. You'll find photos, audio recordings, interviews, poetry commentary and reflections on my time on the road. We'll be adding more content throughout the rest of my second term, so check in periodically for updates.

As part of her second term as Laureate, Smith edited an anthology called American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time. The anthology was published in September 2018 by Graywolf Press in association with the Library of Congress and was incorporated into Smith’s visits to rural communities.

During her second term, Smith also began hosting a weekday podcast and radio feature titled "The Slowdown External." The podcast launched November 26, 2018, and became available through public radio on January 14, 2019. Each five-minute episode, produced by American Public Media, features Smith reading works by writers from around the country and the world and exploring how poetry helps us better understand life, history, art, science and more. The program—more than one-hundred episodes of which were recorded during Smith's tenure as laureate—encourages listeners to make a daily space for poetry in an increasingly busy and chaotic world.

Smith closed her term as Laureate on Monday, April 15, 2019, at 7 p.m. with the program titled “American Celebration” in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium. Joined by Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, Hawaii Poet Laureate Kealoha, Indiana Poet Laureate Adrian Matejka, Oklahoma State Poet Laureate Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, and Clark County, Nevada, Poet Laureate Vogue Robinson, Smith participated in a discussion about outreach to communities and the roles of state, city, and county poets laureate across the country. The discussion, embedded below, was moderated by Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets.

Tracy K. Smith has been featured on both the Poetry and Literature Center's blog, From the Catbird Seat, and on the Library's main blog. Those blog posts are linked below:

The Library of Congress features several recordings of Tracy K. Smith reading and discussing her poetry and the work of other poets. These are listed below.


Other Recordings