Smith was the 2010/2011 literature protégée of German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Life on Mars was published during her mentorship, a time when the pair met in New York, London, Munich and Paris to share poetry readings and ideas.
“I am unwilling to put the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry down to sheer good luck,” said Enzensberger. “It is due to the quality and bravura of Tracy's work. But it also says something about the Rolex Arts Initiative’s sophisticated process of selection for the Mentor and Protégé programme.”
Smith said of the award: “This news is particularly elating, because I think of the book as a tribute to my father, who passed away in 2008.”
Described by the prize’s board as “a collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain”, Life on Mars is in part an elegy to Smith’s father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.
The book received extensive praise when it was published in 2011, including a review in The New York Times that called Smith “a poet of extraordinary range and ambition”, and said of the collection, “As all the best poetry does, Life on Mars first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”
First awarded in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize is today among the most prestigious accolades in American journalism, letters and music. Administered by Columbia University in New York, it is the legacy of publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who established the annual award as an incentive to excellence.
Smith is an associate professor of creative writing at Princeton University. Through her teaching and workshops, she is already mentoring the next generation, in keeping with the spirit of the Arts Initiative. Acclaimed Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who is also at Princeton, has said of Smith: “As one of the most engaging, and engaged, of early-career American poets, she brings a very vital worldview to our students.”