During the last week of August, Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith traveled to rural communities in three of Alaska’s five regions as the kickoff to “American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities.” Today, we’re excited to share photos, interviews, and reflections from Tracy’s adventures in Alaska on the “American Conversations” website.
“I’ve been welcomed into so many warm and vibrant communities, but in some ways it’s been a private pleasure,” writes Tracy in the site’s introduction. “I hope to use this website as a way to share this experience with the rest of America.”
Now available online are photos from each leg of the trip, local press coverage (including a radio interview with Tracy on KTOO’s daily program, “A Juneau Afternoon”), and interviews with the Alaska coordinators and staff who helped organize and promote these “American Conversations” events in their communities.
According to Theresa Quiner, library director at the Kuskokwim Consortium Library in Bethel, “It was so special to have Tracy K. Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate, visit our community and library. We aren’t able to get authors to Bethel often due to the high cost and difficulty of getting to rural Alaska, and the community was so excited to come hear her speak. We had a packed house at the event, and feedback from the community was overwhelmingly positive.”
Rayette Sterling, leadership programs manager at the Alaska Humanities Forum, helped coordinate the poet laureate’s Alaska travels and attended events in Bethel and Palmer. “Because of our remoteness, Alaska is not often on the speaking rotation for major authors,” she said in her interview. “It was a privilege to have the opportunity to share the beauty of our communities with Tracy. I think Alaskans are connected to land and place in a unique way. Our environment informs us and shapes how we move through the world. Poetry provides a way to articulate that movement and capture its essence. Seeing the seniors at the Palmer Pioneer Home and the students in Bethel engage with the readings was inspiring. Although the communities are very different, we were able to connect through poetry to have an American conversation.”
Learn more about Tracy K. Smith’s travels to rural Alaska, and stay tuned for more content from her October trip to South Dakota!