Patricia Smith @ Urban Voices 2010

Patricia Smith
Patricia Smith
, lauded by critics as “a testament to the power of words to change lives,” is the author of five acclaimed poetry volumes. Blood Dazzler, which chronicles the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. In a review, South Carolina poet laureate Marjory Wentworth wrote, “Blood Dazzler is the narrative of a shameful tragedy, but it is lyrical and beautiful, like a hymn we want to sing over and over until it lives in our collective memory.” In naming the book one of NPR’s Top 5 books of 2008, John Freeman called Dazzler “a fierce, blood-in-the-mouth collection” which “already has the whiff and feel of folklore.”

Smith’s previous book, Teahouse of the Almighty, 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, Life According to Motown, and Big Towns, Big Talk. She is the winner of the Chatauqua Literary Journal Award in poetry and a Pushcart Prize for the poem “The Way Pilots Walk.”

Smith’s work has been published in Poetry, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and other literary journals/anthologies, and performed around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Poets Stage in Stockholm, Rotterdam’s Poetry International Festival, the Aran Islands International Poetry and Prose Festival, the Bahia Festival, the Schomburg Center, the Sorbonne in Paris and on tour in Germany, Austria and Holland. A four-time individual champion on 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 is also the author of Africans in America, a companion volume to the groundbreaking PBS documentary; Publishers Weekly called the book “a monumental research effort wed with fine writing…ultimately shaped by Smith’s beautiful narrative,” and Michelle Cliff of the San Jose Mercury News said, “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, a Bruce McEver Visiting Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech University, and writer-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. During a ceremony at Chicago State University’s Gwendolyn Brooks Center, Smith was inducted into the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. In 2008 she was awarded a Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa, Texas.

She is currently at work on Shoulda Been Jimmie Savannah, a memoir written in formal verse; the young adult novel The Journey of Willie J, and a Blood Dazzler collaboration with Paloma McGregor, a choreographer with Urban Bush Women.

Smith teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine and is a professor of creative writing at the City University of New York/ College of Staten Island. She has also done hundreds of writing and performance residencies in elementary middle schools and high schools.

Patricia Smith Urban Voices Poetry Festival Schedule:

Joburg: Sat 23 Oct @ Bassline , Newtown 8pm

Cape Town: Wed 27 Oct @ Baxter Theatre, Rondebosch, 8pm

Extracts of Poem by Patria Smith:


I was birthed restless and elsewhere

gut dragging and bulging with ball lightning, slush,
broke through with branches, steel

I was bitch-monikered, hipped, I hefted
a whip rain, a swirling sheet of grit.

Scraping toward the front of you, hungering for wood, walls,
unturned skin. With shifting and frantic mouth, I loudly loved
the slow bones

of elders, fools, and willows.

—from Blood Dazzler

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