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Pulitzer Prize winner, poet Laureate hosts an evening of poetry at UTEP

Photo courtesy of UTEP
Tracy K. Smith, an accomplished academic whose accolades include a Pulitzer Prize and the title of former U.S. Poet Laureate shared her thoughts about race, inclusion and society’s shared responsibility toward a common Jan. 30, 2020, in the Tomás Rivera Conference Center, Union Building East, 3rd floor.

Pulitzer Prize winning author and poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith shared “An Evening of Poetry” with the community at the University of Texas at El Paso Thursday, Jan. 30.

The event, titled “An Evening of Poetry with Tracy K. Smith,” was sponsored by UTEP’s Creative Writing Department, the English Department, the Liberal Arts Dean’s Office, the African American Studies Department and the Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP.

Smith has published one memoir and four poetry collections, including the Pulitzer Prize winner “Life on Mars.” She is also a creative writing professor at Princeton University and the host of “The Slowdown,” a radio program and podcast from American Public Media.

“It’s just very rare to see somebody have this kind of talent,” said Denis O’Hearn, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UTEP. “Though she talks about life on Mars, she has her feet firmly on the ground.”

Two different versions of Smith’s latest work, “Wade in the Water,” were being sold outside the conference center before the event. The UTEP Bookstore sold the original version, while University Relations sold the translated version by award-winning poet and UTEP Assistant Professor Andrea Cote-Botero.

Set to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Tomás Rivera Conference Center, the event was delayed 15 minutes because turnout was much greater than expected. Some attendees sat on the floor as they waited for more sitting to be available because the 200 chairs set up for the audience were not enough.

Chair of the Creative Writing Department, Daniel Chacón, inaugurated the event by thanking the sponsors and introducing Smith and Cote-Botero.

“Seems like all the press that hates Trump loves Tracy Smith,” Chacón said after reading excerpts from reviews of Smith’s work from different publications, like The Washington Post and The New Yorker.

Smith opened the evening reading the poem “Hill Country” from her book “Wade in the Water,” and Cote-Botero followed her, reading the translation of the same poem called “En las colinas.”

The two poets went through what Smith called their “playlist,” alternating their participations. Smith gave an introduction to every poem and read it in English, while Cote-Botero read their Spanish translations.

The poems about slavery, racism and hardship moved audience members to tears.

“This is somebody that students should be able to identify with and sort of emulate,” said Andrew Fleck, director of the Liberal Arts Honors Program. “We’re really fortunate to have Tracy Smith here in El Paso.”

Smith’s participation is the first of seven events promoted by the Creative Writing Department this spring semester. Poet Carolina Ebeid will be their next guest, coming Feb. 13.

Marisol Chávez may be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Marisol Chavez
Marisol Chavez, Web Editor
Marisol Chávez is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with a minor in legal reasoning at The University of Texas at El Paso. She is The Prospector’s copy editor and a freelancer covering the Texas-Mexico border for The Dallas Morning News and Al Día Dallas. After graduating this May, she will pursue a Juris Doctor degree.  
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Pulitzer Prize winner, poet Laureate hosts an evening of poetry at UTEP