On Wednesday, the Library of Congress announced the newest U.S. poet laureate, 45-year-old Tracy K. Smith. If you’re a bookworm, you’ve likely come across Smith before. Her 2011 collection of poetry, Life on Mars, won a Pulitzer Prize, along with many other literary honors, and her 2015 memoir Ordinary Light was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award. Smith, who is also a professor at Princeton University, said in a statement that she was honored to be chosen:
She added that she was excited to “share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said that they chose Smith since she is a “poet of searching.” Hayden contends that Smith’s 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.” That sounds like something we could all use these days.
So what will the new poet laureate have to do?
There aren’t actually a ton of responsibilities when it comes to being poet laureate. Smith will do a reading at the Library of Congress in September when it opens up its literary season and will also work to expand the audience for poetry. Smith told NPR that she wants to make poetry accessible:
And she already has made some headway in expanding the audience for poetry. One of her poems, “The Good Life” has been framed and posted on many New York City subway cars for years.
Besides making poetry more visible, being named poet laureate is just a really huge honor. You might see her doing more readings, or making a visit to the White House for a state dinner or two, if the new administration plans on having any. Smith will be the 22nd Library of Congress poet laureate, although the last one, Juan Felipe Herrera, held the position for two years. Other notable poet laureates are Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, and Louise Glück.