Tracy Smith was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts and grew up in Fairfield, California. She was the youngest of five children and her father was an engineer and her mother a teacher. She was encouraged by her parents to read good quality literature at an early age and was captivated by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She studied English at Harvard University, graduating with a BA in 1994, the year in which her mother died. She then completed a Masters degree in Fine Arts at Columbia University in 1997. From 1997 until 1999 she held the position of Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.
Tracy has published four volumes of poetry to date; The Body’s Question in 2003, which won her the Cave Canem prize; Duende in 2007, for which she received the James Laughlin Award; Life on Mars in 2011, for which she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Wade in the Water in 2018. She also wrote a memoir, Ordinary Light in 2015, and edited the anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time.
Tracy Smith’s poems interweave personal observations and experiences with underlying weightier, universal themes. Her prizewinning volume, Life on Mars, is infused with dystopian images from science fiction. Her poems cover themes of love, lust, grief, joy and desire and exhibit fine language and lyrical brilliance on the surface but underneath there is a sense of mystery and the infinite. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and three children.