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Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet to Headline Kentucky Women Writers Conference

Poet Tracy K. Smith reads from "Life of Mars" on PBS' "NewsHour." 

by Whitney Hale

(Jan. 30, 2014) — The Kentucky Women Writers Conference will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith as its keynote speaker at the 2014 conference, scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13. Smith’s appearance is being supported in part by University of Kentucky Libraries.

Tracy K. Smith is the author of three award-winning books of poetry, including her most recent collection, "Life on Mars" (Graywolf, 2011), the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on science fiction film, literature and popular music, from Arthur C. Clarke to Stanley Kubrick to David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope.

"Smith’s poetry has such broad appeal," said Kentucky Women Writers Conference Director Julie Kuzneski Wrinn. "She engages with popular culture yet asks timeless metaphysical questions, while remaining true to the sci-fi tradition, which in its topical commentary is always less about the past or the future than about our precise moment in time."

Smith's poems embody the lyrical, rhythmic quality of masters such as Lorca. At times political, whimsical and always meditative, they speak to the role of art and to the conception of what it means to be American, dealing with the "evolution and decline of the culture we belong to." Her work also explores the dichotomy between the ordered world and the irrationality of the self, the importance of submitting oneself willingly to the "ongoing conflict" of life and surviving nonetheless. For Smith, in her own words, poetry is a way of "stepping into the mess of experience."

Prior to "Life on Mars," Smith won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award for "Duende" (2007) and the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for "The Body's Question" (2003). She is also the recipient of a 2004 Rona Jaffe Writers Award and a 2005 Whiting Award.

After receiving her bachelor's degree from Harvard University, Smith earned her MFA at Columbia University before going on to be a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. A resident of Brooklyn, she currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University.

Now in its 36th year, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference is an annual event known for bringing notable women writers to Lexington for readings, writing workshops and discussions. A program housed in the UK College of Arts and Sciences, the conference is made possible in part by continued community partnerships, including its primary venue, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

As the keynote speaker of the event, Smith will present a free public address at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, at Worsham Theatre, located in the UK Student Center. The writer will also lead a poetry workshop during the conference for registrants only. Registration opens May 1.

For more information on the conference or events featuring poet Tracy K. Smith, visit online at