Tracy K. Smith grew up in a house lined with books, an eclectic library that included dime-store mysteries, 19th-century novels, science fiction paperbacks, Shakespeare’s sonnets and Reader’s Digest Abridged Classics. It seemed vast to her as a child, but soon she’ll have full run of the world’s largest library: On Wednesday, Smith was named the new poet laureate of the United States.
“I was stunned,” she said from her office at Princeton University, where she is director of creative writing. “It took me a minute to take it in and think about it, and then, of course, I was immensely honored and started thinking about all the ways I could lend my voice to the celebration of poetry on the national stage.”
Smith, 45, is the author of three widely praised collections, The Body’s Question (2003), Duende (2007) and Life on Mars, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. She is the first poet laureate appointed by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, who succeeded James H. Billington last fall. The poet laureate position, which comes with an office in the library, a travel budget and a modest stipend, has few official duties and no political entanglements — no required sonnets on the occasion of Donald Trump’s birthday, etc. Smith, who plans to continue living in New Jersey, will be free to define her role however she’d like.