Tracy K. Smith in her office at Princeton.

Just this past Monday, Tracy K. Smith turned 40.  On that day she also recalibrated the height of the bar for redefining a life.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in recognition of her collection Life on Mars.

Smith’s dad died in 2008.  He was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and had told her of the import of the images to come from the Red Planet.  Indeed, recent findings of the possibility of water on Mars suggest the possibity of once or future life there—a possibilty that inspired the tecnological pioneering of the Hubble and the people who worked on it.

Thus the book is part eulogy.  It is also the a clear prediction of the future beauty and hope that will come to all of us from the lively mind of this Princeton professor of creative writing.

Here are the last lines from her poem “Sci-Fi.”


And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,

Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once

And for all, scrutable and safe.




So often the prizes that have become part of the lexicon of excellence go to the elders who have proven themselves by virtue of sustained output.  It is refreshing to have the Pulitzer go to this woman who has three books to her credit and a two-year-old daughter by her side. She is now a highly recognized poet and will forevermore be someone who stands for doing one’s work while working at the rest of what life asks.

Watch Tracy K. Smith Reads From ‘Life of Mars’ on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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