Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series (CAALS) 35th Bauder Lecture with Tracy K. Smith

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Program Description:

The Marygrove Conservancy has partnered with PBS Books to present the 35th Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series (CAALS). Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, former poet laureate of the United States, and professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard, Tracy K. Smith, will read from her award-winning work followed by discussion lead by Nandi Comer, the Michigan Poet Laureate to discover more about Prof. Smith’s work and legacy.

Established in 1989, CAALS is an annual event bringing a nationally known African American author to our campus for a public lecture and class session or conversation. Through generous support the series has remained free and accessible to the community. To date, over 10,000 people have attended the Friday night public readings to hear outstanding writers share their work, and thousands of Detroit area high school and college students as well as others in the Detroit community have studied these works and attended class sessions with guest authors in the series.

Sponsorship of this program has been brought to you by: The Lillian and Don Bauder Foundation, Michigan Arts and Culture Council, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Kresge Foundation & AARP of Michigan.

To Free the Captives by Tracy K. Smith

About the book:

To Free the Captives touches down in Sunflower, Alabama, the red-dirt town where Smith’s father’s family comes from, and where her grandfather returned after World War Iwith a hero’s record but difficult prospects as a Black man. Smith considers his life and the life of her father through the lens of history. Hoping to connect with their strength and continuance, she assembles a new terminology of American life.

Bearing courageous witness to the terms of Freedom afforded her as a Black woman, a mother, and an educator in the twenty-first century, Smith etches a portrait of where we find ourselves four hundred years into the American experiment. Weaving in an account of her growing spiritual practice, she argues that the soul is not merely a private site of respite or transcendence, but a tool for fulfilling our duties to each other, and a sounding board for our most pressing collective questions: Where are we going as a nation? Where have we been?

About the Author:

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K Smith - Headshot

22nd United States Poet Laureate (2017-2019) & Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and a Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Tracy K. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, memoirist, editor, translator and librettist. She served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017-19, during which time she spearheaded American Conversations: Celebrating Poetry in Rural Communities with the Library of Congress, created the American Public Media podcast The Slowdown, and edited the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time.

Smith is the author of five poetry collections: Such Color: New and Selected Poems, which won the 2022 New England Book Award; Wade in the Water, which was awarded the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Life on Mars, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize; Duende, winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets; and The Body’s Question, which received the 2003 Cave Canem Prize. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction. She is the co-translator (with Changtai Bi) of My Name Will Grow Wide like a Tree: Selected Poems of Yi Lei, which was a finalist for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize; and co-editor (with John Freeman) of There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis. Her memoir-manifesto, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul, was a Time magazine and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

Among Smith’s other honors are the Academy Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, the Harvard Arts Medal, the Columbia Medal for Excellence, a Smithsonian Ingenuity Award and an Essence Literary Award. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Philosophical Society.

She is a Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and a Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

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