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Guide to CWRU Common Reading 2021: Introduction

Common Reading

Tracy K. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate, is Case Western Reserve University’s 2021 Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author.

Case Western Reserve announced her selection in April 2021 in honor of National Poetry Month.

Smith’s book, Wade in the Water, which was recognized with a 2019 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, will be the common reading book for incoming first-year students. The common reading selection is part of the First-Year Experience Program, which is committed to helping new students successfully begin their transition from high school to Case Western Reserve. (Excerpted from The Case Daily, 4-28-21)

Below is a compilation of brief reflections on poetry in general and Smith’s work in particular from faculty members across campus.

About the Author

Tracy K. Smith
(Biography provided by the Poetry Foundation):
Tracy K. Smith was born in Massachusetts and raised in northern California. She earned a BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999 she held a Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. Smith is the author of four books of poetry: The Body's Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award; Life on Mars (2011), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Wade in the Water (2018). In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship. She has also written a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction.

In June 2017, Smith was named U.S. poet laureate. She teaches creative writing at Princeton University and hosts American Public Media's daily radio program and podcast The Slowdown, which is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.

About Wade in the Water

Wade in the Water takes its title from a spiritual sung on the underground railroad that carried slaves to safety in the 19th century. As one reviewer writes, the collection centers upon “erasure poems” – though Smith is actually making visible the words of individuals nearly forgotten by history: slaves, their owners, and African Americans enlisted in the civil war.