ECKLEBURG BOOK CLUB | Ordinary Life by Tracy K. Smith

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Ordinary Life by Tracy K. Smith

From the dazzlingly original Pulitzer Prize-winning poet hailed for her “extraordinary range and ambition” (The New York Times Book Review): a quietly potent 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.

The youngest of five children, Tracy K. Smith was raised with limitless affection and a firm belief in God by a stay-at-home mother and an engineer father. But just as Tracy is about to leave home for college, her mother is diagnosed with cancer, a condition she accepts as part of God’s plan. Ordinary Light is the story of a young woman struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.

In lucid, clear prose, Smith interrogates her childhood in suburban California, her first collision with independence at Harvard, and her Alabama-born parents’ recollections of their own youth in the Civil Rights era. These dizzying juxtapositions—of her family’s past, her own comfortable present, and the promise of her future—will in due course compel Tracy to act on her passions for love and “ecstatic possibility,” and her desire to become a writer.

Shot through with exquisite lyricism, wry humor, and an acute awareness of the beauty of everyday life, Ordinary Light is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of self and family, one that skillfully combines a child’s and teenager’s perceptions with adult retrospection. Here is a universal story of being and becoming, a classic portrait of the ways we find and lose ourselves amid the places we call home.



“Deeply engaging and brilliantly written, Ordinary Light tells how a young woman, encountering ‘the miracle of death,’ explores and expands her own vibrant life—and discovers her voice as a gifted writer.” —Elaine Pagels

“Smith’s memoir takes us so far into the dimensions of experience that the reader feels a remarkable intimacy with this narrator, who brings to all life has to offer a tenderness and intelligence rarely so closely intertwined. Her self-scrutiny, her empathy, and her lifelong quest to figure things out—in particular our bedeviling national aches, religion and race—make for an indelible self-portrait: moving, utterly clear and compulsively readable.” —Mark Doty
“With an abundance of love and wisdom, and in a poet’s confessional prose, Tracy K. Smith has recalled her life and the lives of the people who made her into the person she now knows to be her own true self. The title of her book is Ordinary Light, but that is a conundrum, for there is nothing at all ordinary in its beautiful sentences, its beautiful paragraphs, its beautiful pages. This memoir is big and significant because it reminds us that the everyday is where we experience our common struggles, and that the everyday is at once common and ordinary, while also being singular and unique. A poet is uniquely positioned to know this, and now the remarkable Tracy K. Smith has shown us just that.” —Jamaica Kincaid


Publisher Information

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (March 31, 2015)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307962669



tracy smithTracy 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.


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Eckleburg is a print and online literary journal that offers original fiction, poetry, essays, music, art, writing workshops and more.