Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and professor at Princeton University, was chosen for the position by Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress.
“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.”
The position is a malleable one. Smith told NPR, she hopes to broaden poetry’s audience by “getting off the usual path of literary festivals and university reading series and talking to people who might not even yet be readers of poetry.”
Smith is the author of three books including the collection that won her the Pulitzer, Life on Mars.
She is the fourth Black woman to hold the position. Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove and Natasha Trethewey preceded her.
Smith was born in Massachusetts and is the youngest of five siblings, according to NPR. She attended Harvard University for her Bachelors and received her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from Columbia University. Smith was a Stegner fellow at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999 and, in 2014, she was awarded with a fellowship with the Academy of American Poets.
She currently teaches at Princeton University and, according to NPR, she is working on another form of literature: opera.
Hayden paid tribute to Smith’s poetry work for traveling the world and taking on its voices. It “brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion, and pop culture,”the current Librarian of Congress said. “With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths ― all to better understand what makes us human,” she added.
Smith sees value in sharing poetry with the country especially in today’s tense political climate.
“Poetry can help us make sense of the contemporary moment,” she told The Washington Post.
“I’m excited by the fact that what poets are writing speaks to a particular moment and it speaks to the ages. Any political moment is uncertain, and a voice that lets us think about that will last,” Smith continued. “Let’s think about how empathy can drive our perspective of one another. Let’s think about how we can get past what’s binary and simplest to what’s complicated.”
Smith is due to begin her term as the poet laureate in September. “Wade in the Water,” her fourth book of poetry, is due in stores in April.