Columbia University School of the Arts announced today that Writing Program alumna Tracy K. Smith (’97) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her book Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011). Smith, who was mentored by Poetry Concentration Director Lucie Brock-Broido while at School of the Arts, has rapidly established herself as one of the best poets of her generation.
"It was clear from the very start that Tracy K. Smith's voice would be a beautiful force to be reckoned with in contemporary American poetry," said Brock-Broido. "It is deeply gratifying for us in the School of the Arts to see the body of work that she's gone on to create and even more gratifying to see that work receive the recognition it deserves. We could not be more pleased, and proud of her achievement."
The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry is awarded to a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author. The Jury was made up of former Pulitzer-winner Philip Schultz, poet Arthur Sze and former state poet of New York, Jean Valentine. Other finalists for the prize were Forrest Gander for Core Samples from the World (New Directions) and Ron Padgett for How Long (Coffee House Press).
Life on Mars is a collection of bold and skillful poems that takes readers into the universe and moves them to an authentic mix of joy and pain. In it, Smith imagines a sci-fi future clean of real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant and relegates kitschy concepts like “love” and “illness” to the Museum of Obsolescence.
Smith is the author of two previous collections: Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essence Literary Award, and The Body's Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Smith is currently a protégé in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, and a member of the Creative Writing Faculty at Princeton University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Previous winners of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry are Writing faculty members Mark Strand, who won for Blizzard of One (1999) and Richard Howard, who won for Untitled Subjects (1970).