Tracy K. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author of three books. She has been praised for her “extraordinary range and ambition.” Her latest work is a compelling memoir that explores her childhood, race, faith, and the bond between mother and daughter. I am delighted to bring you a book review for Ordinary Light.
Tracy is the youngest of five children, raised in a home where there was a strong belief and faith in God. In beautifully written prose, she dissects her childhood in suburban California, her first time away from home at college, and her parents’ recollections of the civil rights era.
She uses humor and lyricism to tell very detailed stories that allow the reader to see her everyday life as a child on through to her adult life. Ordinary Light is a universal story of home that we can all relate to.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tracy K. Smith in February of this year at a reading in Houston. I realized that we had quite a bit in common: we both grew up military brats, we began writing poetry at an early age, and our mothers lost their battles to cancer. She was just as I thought she would be – a warm, enlightening, and peaceful spirit.
In the book, she reminisces, “Sometimes, I’d wonder if my mother had had me so long after she’d given birth to the others simply because she’d wanted another baby around the house; someone to cuddle up with and coo to and carry around like a living doll.”
Ordinary Light is 349 pages. Yes, it is quite long, but it truly needs to be. Tracy manages to eloquently put her entire life into the pages, sharing private and intimate material. Along the way, she said that she discovered how much other people’s lives and stories were integral to the book. She took care to ask permission of her brothers and sisters to discuss delicate topics.
Being a mother herself it was important for her to create the book as a legacy for her children. I found myself examining my own childhood and recalling precious memories, particularly of my own mother.
With this review, I also want to convey how gifted a writer Tracy is. Just like her, her work is warm and inviting. It welcomes you in and allows you to find comfort.
“Alone in my room, by my window overlooking the rooftops and the low hills that were wet and green in the distance, reading poems to myself became a kind of ritual. The slim volumes of poetry I’d brought home with me from college offered a sense of continuity between the life I’d begun to lead on my own and the life I’d been drawn back into upon returning home.”