The dazzling memoir from the U.S. Poet Laureate and author of Wade in the Water and Life on Mars. Named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Denver Post
In Ordinary Light, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith tells her remarkable story, giving us a quietly potent memoir that explores her coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter. Here is the story of a young artist struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.
This somber memoir by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Smith (Life on Mars; Duende) reaches around the deep Christian piety of her Alabama-born mother to the author's own questions about faith and her black identity. The work opens with the death of her mother from colon cancer shortly after Smith graduated from Harvard; then it looks back to the 1970s, when Smith and her four siblings were growing up in Northern California near the Travis Air Force Base, where her father was stationed as an engineer. The memoir is episodic; each chapter takes a memory of Smith's youth and holds it to the light for scrutiny: her visit to her mother's hometown of Leroy, Ala., when she was in first grade; her enrollment in a "mentally gifted minors" school that put her on the accelerated education track and led to years in majority-white schools; a lecture on sex education from her older brother Conrad; and her exchange of ardent love letters with one of her high school teachers, who was married at the time. Throughout the book, there is the strong sense that Smith's mother's love and faith held the family together. And, though God could not cure her mother, Smith finds her own way back to her faith by searching for a less circumscribed, more expansive way to understand her relationship with her mother, which she found in writing poetry. This is a nuanced memoir with a quiet emotional power.
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Overall an excellent and honest memoir
I really liked most of the book. The beginning up until she goes to college rang truer than the last part. It had a tendency about 3/4 through of changing somehow. After her children were born, the last couple of chapters got back on track though. I just think it became too "soul searching" or "indulgent" during the college part.