Former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith To Be Guest Speaker at RPI’s Bicentennial McKinney Award Ceremony

March 27, 2024

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her book Life on Mars, will speak at the 83rd annual McKinney Writing Award ceremony on Friday, April 19 at 7 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The event is free and open to the public.

In addition to Life on Mars, Smith is the author four books of poetry, most recently Such Color: New and Selected Poems, and two books of nonfiction, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul and Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is also an editor, translator, opera librettist, professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

“The 82nd McKinney Annual Reading Series and Award Ceremony falls on Rensselaer's Bicentennial year, presenting a unique opportunity to celebrate the mission of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) to foster interdisciplinary collaborations and address urgent and complex challenges,” said Skye Anicca, lecturer in HASS at Rensselaer and chair of the McKinney Award Committee. “Smith's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, Life on Mars, particularly highlights the possibilities in examining science and technological progress through a humanistic lens that recognizes the power and responsibility inherent in human innovations.”

The McKinney Award recognizes top writers in the Rensselaer student community. An average of 230 students enter each year to compete for a total of more than $4,000. Cash prizes are awarded in both graduate and undergraduates divisions in four different categories: Creative Prose and Drama, Poetry, Academic Essay, and Electronic Mixed Media Using Language.

A special category, Language and Empowerment, is a multi-genre division that reflects the Department of Communication and Media’s emphasis on language as a primary vehicle for the work of democracy, social justice, and equity. This category seeks explicitly to highlight emerging writers who are working creatively, perhaps in more than one language, with words they deem urgent and essential to the discourse of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“The McKinney Writing Contests and Reading Series celebrates the role of the arts and literature as an essential and fundamental mode of human communication,” Annica said. “In offering publicly recognized opportunities for students to read and respond to literature critically, creatively, and multimodally, Rensselaer demonstrates its commitment to the mission of the Department of Media and Communication to help students navigate a digitally, socially, and culturally complex world.”

The event is sponsored in part by the Rensselaer Annual McKinney Writing Contest and Reading; Vollmer W. Fries Lecture; Department of Communication and Media; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Rensselaer Union; Friends of the Folsom Library; and the NYS Writers Institute.

Written By Christian TeBordo
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