Smith headlines Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest  

 (Chicago) May 30, 2024—Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith has been named the recipient of Chicago’s 2024 Harold Washington Literary Award. She will accept this prestigious award on Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Harold Washington Literary Award Dinner held in her honor at the Union League Club of Chicago.

Since 1989, the Harold Washington Literary Award (HWLA) Award, presented by the Near South Planning Board, has been given annually to an author whose body of work creatively uses the written word to address issues of contemporary life. Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of the City of Chicago, revered literature and epitomized the diversity of the American experience. The award, which bears his name, celebrates this spirit.

Smith, a prominent figure in American literature, delves into themes of identity, grief, and societal struggles across her diverse body of work. Known for acclaimed collections like “Life on Mars,” “The Body’s Question,” and “Duende” she explores love, loss, and the artistic journey. Her memoir, “Ordinary Light,” offers reflections on race, religion, and personal loss.

“I believe art is one of our greatest tools for better understanding who we are and what we mean to one another, and so I am profoundly grateful to be recognized with the Harold Washington Literary Award, which celebrates the effects of the written word on the collective imagination,” Smith said.

The Chicago City Council will honor Smith by proclaiming Sept. 5, 2024, as Tracy K. Smith Day. The day will culminate with her acceptance speech at the Harold Washington Literary Award Dinner, chaired by DePaul University Manager of External Relations, Amanda Thompson.

The HWLA recipients are selected by a cross-cultural committee of representatives from Chicago’s literary community who take great pride in their research to determine recipients. Natalie Moore, WBEZ-FM 91.5 FM journalist and author, served as chair of this year’s selection committee. HWLA Committee members included Randy Albers, Columbia College Chicago; Rosellen Brown, School of the Art Institute; Bette Cerf Hill, Printers Row Lit Fest founder; Carey Cranston, American Writers Museum; Alison Cuddy, writer and journalist; France de Pontes Peebles, novelist; Amy Danzer, Northwestern University; Jeff Deutsch, Seminary Co-Op Bookstores; Rachel DeWoskin, Writers for Democratic Action; Donald G. Evans, Chicago Literary Hall of Fame FounderMiles Harvey, DePaul University; Alex Kotlowitz, author; Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti, Third World Press; Rebecca Makkai, novelist; Eric Charles May, Columbia College Chicago; Mary Ellen Messner, Chicago Public Library; Evan F. Moore, journalist; Ydalmi Noriega, Poetry Foundation; Elise Paschen, School of the Art Institute; Audrey Petty, author; Anne Ream, The Voices and Faces Project; Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, Near South Planning Board; Donna Seaman, Booklist; Elizabeth Taylor, The National Book Review; and Toya Wolfe, novelist.

As Editor, Adult Books at Booklist, Seaman was excited to have Smith be the 2024 award recipient.

“We are jubilant over Tracy K. Smith’s acceptance of the Harold Washington Literary Award,” she explained. “A highly honored poet, memoirist, and educator, Smith is a writer of profound artistry, vision, forthrightness, and social commitment deeply engaged with questions of family, spirit, race, and history.”

The award dinner is the official kickoff to the 39th annual and nationally-known Printers Row Lit Fest, where Smith will be the 2024 headliner. Printers Row Lit Fest will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 and Sunday, Sept. 8 in Chicago’s historic Printers Row neighborhood. Lit Fest authors, such as Smith, take on myriad topics that focus on global and social events affecting our personal and professional lives.

Throughout the weekend, visitors to the largest free outdoor literary showcase in the Midwest can explore more than 100 booksellers and exhibitor tents that present a variety of genres which include children’s literature, romance, politics, and more. In addition, the event offers 70-plus free programs for children and adults of all ages on six stages with over 200 presenters.

As a former U.S. Poet Laureate (2017-2019), Smith’s artistic endeavors extend beyond poetry to opera, where she tackles themes of Black identity and societal progress. Currently a Harvard professor, her latest book, “To Free the Captives,” merges personal and historical nonfiction, shedding light on the American past and present. It traces her paternal lineage, revealing the losses and lessons that inform her writing, serving as a compelling plea for the American soul. “To Free the Captives,” was a Time Magazine and Washington Post Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.  

The 2024 HWLA recipient, Tracy K. Smith, will join the ranks of notable award winners including Isabel Wilkerson (2023), Natasha Tretheway (2022), Ta-Nehisi Coates (2021), Alex Kotlowitz (2019), Rabih Alameddine (2018), Rita Dove (2017), Marilynne Robinson (2016), Edward P. Jones (2015), Stuart Dybek (2014), Art Spiegelman (2013), Sara Paretsky (2012), Edwidge Danticat (2011), Barbara Ehrenreich (2010), Dave Eggers (2009), Scott Turow (2008), Walter Mosley (2007), E.L. Doctorow (2006), Garrison Keillor (2005), Jules Feiffer (2004), Margaret Atwood (2003), Grace Paley (2002), August Wilson (2001), John Hope Franklin (2000), Robert Pinsky (1999), Joseph Epstein (1998), Cynthia Ozick (1997), Isabel Allende (1996), Doris Kearns Goodwin (1995), Zbigniew Brzezinski (1994), Garry Wills (1993), Ralph Ellison (1992), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1991), Saul Bellow, Ray Bradbury, Gwendolyn Brooks, Cyrus Colter, William Maxwell, Studs Terkel (1990), and Susan Sontag (1989).

To purchase tickets to the Harold Washington Literary Award dinner, please visit this link.

About Printers Row Lit Fest

Printers Row Lit Fest, now in its 39th year, has become a cornerstone of the literary scene, attracting over 100,000 visitors annually. The Lit Fest takes place on South Dearborn Street, from Ida B. Wells to Polk Streets in Chicago. As one of the largest literary festivals in the country, it offers an incredible platform for established and emerging authors to engage with their readers and discuss their latest works. For more information, visit