In Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith (our country’s new Poet Laureate and the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Life on Mars) investigates her struggles with devotion — to family, to religion, to history — on her path to adulthood. The youngest of five siblings, Smith was a model child — sweet-tempered, ambitious in school, and eager to please her devoutly religious mother. But as she grew older, she found herself consumed by doubts about Christianity and, as an African American coming of age in the ’70s and ’80s, increasingly conscious of the deep currents of racism in our culture. An urge to rebel coincided with the heartbreaking news that her mother was dying of cancer, leaving her to contend with a mess of guilt, alienation, and pain. Ordinary Light details this story of Smith’s early life with startling clarity. It is a gorgeous book brimming with intellectual curiosity, candid self-reflection, and, above all, deep love for family. Recommended By Renee P., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet: a deeply moving memoir that explores coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter.
Tracy K. Smith had a fairly typical upbringing in suburban California: the youngest in a family of five children raised with limitless affection and a firm belief in God by a stay-at-home mother and an engineer father. But after spending a summer in Alabama at her grandmother's home, she returns to California with a new sense of what it means for her to be black: from her mother's memories of picking cotton as a girl in her father's field for pennies a bushel, to her parents' involvement in the Civil Rights movement. These dizzying juxtapositions — between her family's past, her own comfortable present, and the promise of her future — will eventually compel her to act on her passions for love and "ecstatic possibility," and her desire to become a writer. But when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, which she says is part of God's plan, Tracy must learn a new way to love and look after someone whose beliefs she has outgrown. Written with a poet's precision and economy, this gorgeous, probing kaleidoscope of self and family offers us a universal story of belonging and becoming, and the ways we find and lose ourselves amid the places we call home.
“Ordinary Light shines bright not because of extraordinary events
that occurred in Smith’s life but because of the warm glow the memoir
casts on the simple everyday life of a young girl yearning to do great
things. . . . Smith’s spare yet beautiful prose transforms her story
into a shining example of how one person’s shared memories can brighten
everyone’s world.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Smith writes as a daughter who has lost her mother and is thinking of
her own daughter. . . . She offers her painstaking reflections on what
went into the making of her.” The New York Times Book Review
“A subtle, elegant meditation that reveals the profound in the quotidian. . . . Exquisitely beautiful.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Engrossing in its spare, simple understatement. . . . Evocative . . . luminous.” The Washington Post
About the Author
Tracy K. Smith is the author of three acclaimed books of poetry: The Body’s Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award; and, most recently, Life on Mars, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors Choice, and a New Yorker, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Other honors include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and an Academy of American Poets Fellowship. A Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University, she lives in Princeton with her family.