Media Covers Wellesley’s Commencement and Speaker, U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith talks with Paula A. Johnson and Dan Chiasson.
June 7, 2018

Media coverage of Wellesley’s 140th commencement included an extensive interview with the featured speaker, U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith, on the WBUR program Radio Boston. The Boston Globe ran a story about her speech, and the Associated Press article about it appeared in news outlets around the country, including the Washington Post.   

In her commencement speech at Wellesley, Smith urged the class of 2018 to weave a sense of love into their relationships with others. “The greatest challenge incumbent upon you is learning to love others in ways they may be incapable of loving themselves, and of trusting them—giving them the reason, the wish—to love you in kind,” she said . “But I think it’s possible to meet this challenge. After all, Love is world-creating. Who hasn’t changed for love? Who hasn’t dreamt of being changed, transformed by it?”

A native of Falmouth, Mass., Smith was appointed poet laureate by the librarian of Congress in 2017, and reappointed for 2018–19. She is the author of four books of poetry: Life on Mars, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry; Duende, which won the 2006 James Laughlin Award and 2008 Essence Literary Award; The Body’s Question, winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize; and Wade in the Water, published on April 3 of this year. Smith is also the author of Ordinary Light: A Memoir, which was a National Book Award finalist and was selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Her most recent book, Wade in the Water, contained letters from African American Civil War veterans and also depositions written by them in their efforts to obtain pensions for their military service.

The material, she said in the Radio Boston interview, conveyed “their beliefs and values of freedom and humanity that many of these soldiers believed they were fighting for and the way that justice was denied.” She said the letters expressed dignity and persistence in their desire “to be embraced by this country.”

Photo: Tracy K. Smith (center) talks with President Johnson and friend and fellow poet Dan Chiasson, professor of English, after her WBUR interview.