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The Spirit That Is Charged: A Conversation about Poetry and Friendship with Tina Chang and Tracy K. Smith

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One-time classmates and longtime friends, poets Tina Chang and Tracy K. Smith, draw upon years of private correspondence, exploring how their intimate exchange has shaped their work, illuminated their individual creative processes, and added meaning to their understanding of the writer’s life.

Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang is the author of the poetry collections Half-Lit Houses (2004and Of Gods & Strangers (2011). The recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and Poets & Writers, among others, she teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and is a member of the international writing faculty at the City University of Hong Kong, the first low-residency MFA program to be established in Asia.

Whiting Award winner Tracy K. Smith has published  the critically acclaimed memoir Ordinary Light (Knopf, 2015) and three books of poetry. Her collection Life on Mars won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize;Duende received the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question was selected by Kevin Young for the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. A recipient of the Academy of American Poets’ Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement, Smith is the Director of Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program.

General Admission $10 / Students $5 in advance or at the door. Reservations recommended: seating limited.


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In their talk at Cave Canem on May 19, “The Spirit That Is Charged: A Conversation about Poetry and Friendship,” Tina Chang and Tracy K. Smith offered a glimpse into their 20-plus years of friendship, sharing anecdotes and letters from their days as MFA students at Columbia and speaking with candor about writing, marriage, parenthood, aging and loss—not to mention their shared love of music and karaoke.

Breaking out her iPhone to play the theme to the TV show Good Times, Smith said to Chang, “To me, that is like the theme song to our shared youth. What does that trigger for you?”

“There were good times, and then it was also really balanced by tremendous times of deep, deep questioning, too,” Chang said. “‘Where are we headed as writers? What is it that we’re doing next?’ And each time I had that question, I had that sounding board—that was Tracy.”

Enjoy their full conversation below.