CONCORD — United States Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith is the 2018 winner of the Hall-Kenyon Prize in American Poetry, honoring the late Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, married poets who lived and wrote at Hall’s ancestral home in Wilmot.
Hall is a former poet laureate of the United States and a recipient of the 2010 National Medal of the Arts, and Kenyon is a former poet laureate of New Hampshire. After a long and lauded career, Donald Hall died this past June.
Smith will accept the award on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. The evening will include a reading from Smith as well as a remembrance of Donald Hall.
"No poet in America believes more deeply in the power of poetry to heal,” said Wesley McNair of Smith. McNair is a native New Englander, Robert Frost Prize-winner and one of the founding poets of the Hall-Kenyon Prize in American Poetry.
“At a time when the divisions of our politics seem to be fixed, she writes poems that open our minds and hearts to our shared history and humanity," McNair said. "To read her is to put aside what we thought we knew and start again."
Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and raised in Fairfield, California, Smith used poetry as a means of reflection on the trials of early adulthood, being a young black woman in the suburbs, and the tragedy of loss.
Smith won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 collection, "Life on Mars." She currently serves as director of the creative writing program at Princeton University. Her memoir, "Ordinary Light," was a National Book Award finalist in 2015, and "Wade in the Water" won a Forward Prize for Best Collection 2018.
As a second-term poet laureate, initially appointed in 2017 and reappointed in March of this year, Smith has dedicated much of her efforts to sharing poetry in more rural communities throughout the country — areas where the literary art is less widely promoted and discussed. During her first year-long term, Smith focused on visits to the South and Southwest, including trips to New Mexico, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Smith’s second term will continue her “American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities” project, bringing discourse to rural places across the country. During her visits, she also shares elements of her latest work, published in September, an anthology titled "American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time."
“Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon were two remarkable New Hampshire artists," said Mark Kaplan, interim executive director at New Hampshire Public Radio. "NHPR is proud to sponsor The Hall-Kenyon Prize as a tribute to their works and lives, and as a way to honor newer talents in the poetic arts.
“Many aspects of our programming celebrate arts and culture, and recognize the value of diverse voices in the arts," Kaplan continued. "As a largely rural state with a thriving, though understated arts scene, we fully appreciate the work Tracy K. Smith has put into promoting access to poetry and creative expression in lesser-served communities.”
Smith is slated to serve as host at American Public Media’s venture into poetry — a podcast and radio module titled "The Slowdown" —where she will welcome diverse voices and offer a moment of quiet reflection to listeners’ busy schedules. The radio program — a partnership between The Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress — is slated to launch on Monday, Jan. 14.