The Voice of Our Time
Join us for an evening of meaningful conversation with the voice of our time, Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States (PLOTUS). Considered one of the most accessible and lyrical contemporary writers, Smith has a way of delivering messages through her poetry, writing, and speaking engagements that is captivating for all audiences.
An Evening with Tracy K. Smith
September 5 at 7:30 p.m.
In her recent collection of poems, Wade in the Water, she offers her perspective on the civil rights era in comparison to now. Her 2015 memoir Ordinary Light was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction and Booklist praises Smith for her ability to “hold our intellectual and emotional attention ever so tightly as she charts her evolving thoughts on the divides between races, generations, economic classes, religion, and science and celebrates her lifesaving discovery of poetry as ‘soul language.’”
Smith is in her second term as poet laureate and is also the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University as well as the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities.
- 2012won Pulitzer Prize for 'Life on Mars'
- 2014Academy of American Poets awarded her with the Academy Fellowship
- 2017named the 22nd United States Poet Laureate
Insights on the author, poet, and person
In an article with Vogue, Smith states, “My hope is to create spaces where people of all stripes can come together and speak at a lower decibel level, we make more sense that way. We sound more like our real selves that way. We are struggling to understand each other, and that’s work we need to settle into for the long haul. We all belong in the mess here together, and we can determine whether and how it gets sorted out.”
Smith has focused her recent PLOTUS efforts in visiting small, rural towns, delivering poetry to unlikely and uncommon areas. In an interview with Ruth Franklin for The New York Times Magazine the following month she stated, “This is a strange period where, nationally, we’re being reminded or convinced of the great divisions that separate coastal and urban communities from the central and rural communities. I’ve always distrusted that.” The 46-year old continued her thoughts with this observation and goal, “I think there are lots of places where we have something very clear, compelling, and welcome to say to one another. More than anything now, I’m looking for the kind of silence that yields clarity. I’m interested in the way our voices sound when we dip below the decibel level of politics.”
“I shut my ears, averted my eyes, turning instead to what I thought at the time was pain's antidote: silence. I was wrong... Silence feeds pain, allows it to fester and thrive. What starves pain, what forces it to release its grip, is speech, the voice upon which rides the story, this is what happened; this is what I have refused to let claim me.”– Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light
“I shut my ears, averted my eyes, turning instead to what I thought at the time was pain's antidote: silence. I was wrong... Silence feeds pain, allows it to fester and thrive. What starves pain, what forces it to release its grip, is speech, the voice upon which rides the story, this is what happened; this is what I have refused to let claim me.”
– Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light
What is a Poet Laureate of the United States (PLOTUS)?
Selected by the Librarian of Congress, the Poet Laureate serves an important role in raising the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Officially titled the Poet Laureate Consusltant in Poetry, the annual role pays a stipened of just $35,000 that he or she can utilize to pursue their own projects with great freedom. Each appointee brings their own focus and emphasis to the position, making him or her a key voice of our time during their tenure. One of the most widely known poet laureates was Robert Frost who served from 1958–59. More recently, the role has been filled by incredible writers including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, and Natasha Trethewey.
There are very few official duties or requests made to the PLOTUS from the Library of Congress, however, at times they have been asked to write poetry to capture or commemorate national events. For example, after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the then poet laureate, Billy Collins was asked to write a piece to be read in a special joint session of Congress in 2002. The resulting poem "The Names" was dedicated to the vicitims and their survivors by Collins and a recording of his reading can be viewed at pbs.org.
Part of the Christian Culture Lecture Series
The event is presented by the Saint Mary’s College Department of Humanistic Studies as this year's Christian Culture Lecture. Each year, the lecture presents a preeminent figure in the humanities to explore some aspect of the Christian dimension of Western culture. The lectures began in 1957 as a series of symposia funded by the Lilly Endowment. With the support of other friends of the College, the series continued for a quarter century and brought to campus over 100 distinguished speakers. This year’s lecture honors the late Francis A. McAnaney (ND '29), Saint Mary's College Board of Trustees member from 1963-69, and is made possible by the generosity of his daughter Kathleen McAnaney Campbell ’65.