Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith

Fellow: Awarded 2014
Field of Study: Poetry

Competition: US & Canada

Sierra Nevada College; College of Staten Island, CUNY

Patricia Smith, lauded by critics as “a testament to the power of words to change lives,” is the author of six acclaimed poetry volumes. Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah was winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, awarded to the best poetry book published in the United States the previous year. Savannah was praised by Sapphire, author of Push: “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah is dangerously beautiful . . . a stunning and transcendent work of art, despite, and perhaps because of, its pain.” The book also won the Phyllis Wheatley Book Award and was a finalist for the William Carlos William Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Smith’s previous book, Blood Dazzler, chronicling the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.  In naming the book one of NPR’s top five books that year, John Freeman called Dazzler “a fierce, blood-in-the-mouth collection” which “already has the whiff and feel of folklore.” Teahouse of the Almighty (2006), was a National Poetry Series selection and winner of the first-ever Hurston/Wright Award in Poetry. Her other poetry books are Close to Death; Big Towns, Big Talk; and Life According to Motown, which was recently rereleased in a special twentieth-anniversary edition.

Smith’s work has been published in Poetry, Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and other literary journals/anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Best American Essays. She is the winner of the Rattle Poetry Prize and two Pushcart prizes. She has performed around the world, including at Carnegie Hall, the Poets Stage in Stockholm, Rotterdam’s Poetry International Festival, and the Aran Islands International Poetry and Prose Festival. A four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam—the most successful slammer in the competition’s history—Smith has also been a featured poet on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and has performed three one-woman plays, one produced by Nobel Prize–winner Derek Walcott.

In addition to her poetic works, Smith edited the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir (Akashic Books, 2012). Her contribution to the collection, the story “When They Are Done With Us,” won the Robert L. Fish Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best debut in the genre and was chosen for Best American Mystery Stories. She is also the author of Africans in America, a companion volume to the groundbreaking PBS documentary; praising it in her review for the San Jose Mercury News, Michelle Cliffe wrote, “With its vivid language and historical integrity, ‘Africans in America’ is a major contribution to this country’s written history.” Smith also penned the children’s book Janna and the Kings, which won Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Award.

She has served as a Cave Canem faculty member, distinguished writer-in-residence at both the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and Sierra Nevada College, and a fellow at both Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. In 2008 she was awarded a Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa, Texas.

Smith teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sierra Nevada College and is a professor of creative writing at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. She is currently at work on a biography of Harriet Tubman and a collection of short fiction; during her tenure as a Guggenheim fellow, she will craft “What Breath Gives Back,” a book pairing poetic dialogues with nineteenth-century photos of African Americans.


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