Pulitzer Prize Winner Talks to Walpole High Students

Photo/ Catherine Hurwitz

By Jess Ferguson

Assistant News Editor

The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning poet and author, Tracy K. Smith, video chatted with Walpole High School’s Creative Writing Club on Sept. 7. During the conversation, she read poems from her upcoming book Wade in the Water, shared personal anecdotes and answered students’ and teachers’ questions.

Wade in the Water comes out next April and focuses on various topics including history, compassion, strangers, eternity and the experiences people can gain by just looking up. Some of these poems were inspired by a research trip to Georgia, where she became influenced by African culture. Smith also took inspiration from different people’s rituals and history from her trip to China.

“I first got inspired [to write] when I was very young. I read some poems in school, and I liked what they did to my ear and the way they taught me new things about the world and new ways to understand the familiar feelings that I had,” Smith said.

Over time, poetry permeated itself into other aspects of Smith’s life, such as worldly views and interests. “As I got older, I found myself reading poems but also living with those lines in my head. I found myself looking at how a poet would describe something, and then suddenly my view of the world was permanently changed. I wanted to record and make better sense of the things that I saw and felt and experienced.”

Junior Katie Hurwitz organized this video through her involvement with Girl Scouts. She is currently a Girl Scout Ambassador working towards her Gold Award. “I’m working on my Gold Award project for Girl Scouts, which means it has to be 80-100 hours of a take-action project that impacts the community, is sustainable and about something I’m passionate about,” Hurwitz said. “I wanted to have it be community writing, so I organized Tracy K. Smith to speak for the Creative Writing Club as a way for an experienced writer to spread information about what she loves to aspiring writers.”

For Hurwitz, the video chat was both educational and inspirational: several students including herself were able to gain some knowledge and insight about writing.

“I think it was a successful turnout; we had twelve students and three teachers, and some students asked questions and received meaningful answers from Tracy Smith,” Hurwitz said. “I learned the value of being passionate about writing, following your dreams and taking risks, and you will receive what you ask for.”

This conversation appeared to be an informative experience for both teachers and students alike. Peter Salmans, head of the Creative Writing Club, assisted Hurwitz in organizing this event.

“I thought it was a really engaging conversation and reading, and it was a great reminder of the purpose that poetry and fiction can serve in our lives, and the fact that it can help us empathize with people who have different perspectives and different experiences,” Salmans said. “It was also just inspirational; she’s a really engaging speaker, and she’s so excited and enthusiastic about what she does, and I think that excitement is contagious.”

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