Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Patricia Smith  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult;

Born: 1955 in Chicago, Illinois

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Illinois Connection

Patricia Smith was born and raised in Chicago. Attended Southern Illinois University and Northwestern University.

Biographical and Professional Information

Smith is a journalist, poet, playwright, and performer. She is four-time national individual champion of the notorious and wildly popular National Poetry Slam, an energized competition where poets are judged on the content and performance of their work. No one else has won the title more than twice. Recognized as one of the world’s most formidable performers, she was featured in the nationally-released film ''Slamnation'', and appeared on the award-winning HBO series ''Def Poetry Jam''. Smith has read her work at venues round the world, including the Poets Stage in Stockholm, Rotterdam’s Poetry International Festival, the Aran Islands International Poetry and Prose Festival and on tour in Germany, Austria and Holland. In the U.S., she’s performed at Carnegie Hall, Bumbershoot, the inaugural Palm Beach Poetry Festival, the Folger Shakespeare Library and St. Mark’s Poetry Project, sharing the stage with noted writers such as Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Rita Dove, Joyce Carol Oates, Allen Ginsberg, Walter Mosley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Galway Kinnell and ''Lord of the Rings'' star Viggo Morgensen. She has also collaborated with Urban Bush Women choreographer Paloma McGregor, Philip Pemberton and the blues band Bop Thunderous, and has performed as an occasional vocalist with the stellar improvisational jazz group, Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble.A selection of Smith’s poetry was produced as a one-woman play by Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott and performed at both Boston University Playwrights Theater and the historic Trinidad Theater Workshop. Another play, based on ''Life According to Motown'', was staged by Company One Theater in Hartford, Ct., and reviewed favorably in The New York Times.Recordings of Patricia Smith’s work can be found on the CD ''Always in the Head'' as well as in the compilations ''Grand Slam'', ''A Snake in the Heart'', ''By Someone’s Good Graces'' and ''Lip''. A short film of Smith performing the poem ''Undertaker'', produced by Tied to the Tracks Films, won awards at the Sundance and San Francisco Film Festivals and earned a prestigious Cable Ace Award as part of the Lifetime Network’s first annual Women’s Film Festival. As a budding voiceover artist, she was the radio voice of the Oil of Olay Total Effects product line.An accomplished and sought-after instructor of poetry, performance and creative writing, Smith is proud to be a Cave Canem faculty member, as well as a former Bruce McEver Chair in Writing at Georgia Tech University. Currently she does workshops and residencies customized for all age groups.Among other books, Smith has authored: ''Africans in America'', a companion volume to the groundbreaking four-part PBS history series and ''Janna and the Kings'', her first children’s book which was a New Voices Award winner. In October of 2006, during the Gwendolyn Brooks Creative Writing Conference at Chicago State University, Patricia was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. In 2008, she was nominated for the 2008 National Book Awards in poetry for her collection ''Blood Dazzler''.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Life According to Motown
ISBN: 0962428728

Tia Chucha. 1991

In the 1960s, the live of black children were shaped by the glittery specter of Motown--a world of furious flash, undeniable glamour, and impossible romantic ideals. Some discovered the truth before it was too late. Others still drape their blues in the silken sounds, swirling in dimly-lit rooms in an endless, blinding slow dance.

Patricia Smith, born and raised on Chicago's West Side, grew and thrived on the bright promise of Motown. Life According to Motown, the new collection by the five-time champion of Chicago's famous Uptown Poetry Slam, recounts in vivid imagery the lessons taught by and learned from Motown, as well as a thrilling collection of new works.

Close to Death: Poems
ISBN: 0944072356

Steerforth. 1998

Homicide, drug abuse, and AIDS-related deaths have forced black male life expectancy into a steady decline. In New York City, black males have long been considered expendable. Young men who feel they have run out of options, whose bravado indicates they are no longer afraid to die, wear baseball caps emblazoned with "C2D," for close to death. This chilling cry comes from those who expect to lose their lives violently without ever having a chance to live. Close to Death, a book of poems amplifying the voices and souls of black men at various stages of their lives, is a poetic requiem for those who struggle against the odds, for those who have resigned themselves to death, and for those already gone.

Africans in America: America's Journey through Slavery
ISBN: 0156008548

Harvest. 1999

A riveting narrative history of America, from the 1607 landing in Jamestown to the brink of the Civil War, Africans in America tells the shared history of Africans and Europeans as seen through the lens of slavery. It is told from the point of view of the Africans who arrived in shackles and endured the terrible dichotomy of this new land founded on the ideal of liberty but dedicated to the perpetuation of slavery. Meticulously researched, this book weaves together the experiences of the colonists, slaves, free and fugitive blacks, and abolitionists to present an utterly original document, a startling and moving drama of the effects of slavery and racism on our conflicted national identity. The result transcends history as we were taught it and transforms the way we see our past.

Big Towns, Big Talk: Poems
ISBN: 0944072240

Steerforth. 2002

Life According to Motown, Patricia Smith's first book, told of the glittery deceptions of the Motown era and the difficulties of growing up under their sway. Big Towns, Big Talk takes a look at what happens after you've grown up.

Janna and the Kings
ISBN: 1584300884

Lee & Low Books. 2003

Saturdays are special for Janna. That’s when she and Granddaddy spend the whole day together. Walking down the street with Granddaddy is like strolling through a kingdom with a king. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. Best of all, Granddaddy and Janna always head for her favorite place in the world—Terrell’s barbershop. There, Granddaddy and his friends are kings in barber chair thrones, and Janna is a princess, showered with love and attention. One day Granddaddy passes away, and Janna feels she has lost their wonderful kingdom forever. But with great courage and some unexpected help, Janna finds her way back to the happiness of those special Saturdays. Winner of LEE & LOW’s New Voices Award, JANNA AND THE KINGS is a moving story of love and rediscovery, and a celebration of the enduring bond between grandchild and grandparent.

Teahouse of the Almighty (National Poetry)
ISBN: 1566891930

Coffee House Press. 2006

A National Poetry Series winner, chosen by Edward Sanders.

“What power. Smith’s poetry is all poetry. And visceral. Her poems get under the skin of their subjects. Their passion and empathy, their real worldliness, are blockbuster.”—Marvin Bell

“I was weeping for the beauty of poetry when I reached the end of the final poem.”—Edward Sanders, National Poetry Series judge

From Lollapalooza to Carnegie Hall, Patricia Smith has taken the stage as this nation’s premier performance poet. Featured in the film Slamnation and on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam, Smith is back with her first book in over a decade—a National Poetry Series winner weaving passionate, bluesy narratives into an empowering, finely tuned cele-bration of poetry’s liberating power.

Blood Dazzler
ISBN: 156689218X

Coffee House Press. 2008

In minute-by-minute detail, Patricia Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina as it transforms into a full-blown mistress of destruction. From August 23, 2005, the day Tropical Depression Twelve developed, through August 28 when it became a Category Five storm with its “scarlet glare fixed on the trembling crescent,” to the heartbreaking aftermath, these poems evoke the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as America watched it on television.

Assuming the voices of flailing politicians, the dying, their survivors, and the voice of the hurricane itself, Smith follows the woefully inadequate relief effort and stands witness to families held captive on rooftops and in the Superdome. She gives voice to the thirty-four nursing home residents who drowned in St. Bernard Parish and recalls the day after their deaths when George W. Bush accompanied country singer Mark Willis on guitar:

The cowboy grins through the terrible din,
And in the Ninth, a choking woman wails
Look like this country done left us for dead.

An unforgettable reminder that poetry can still be “news that stays news,” Blood Dazzler is a necessary step toward national healing.

Patricia Smith is the author of four previous collections of poetry, including Teahouse of the Almighty, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize. A record-setting, national poetry slam champion, she was featured in the film Slamnation, on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam, and is a frequent contributor to Harriet, the Poetry Foundation’s blog. Visit her website at


Teahouse of the Almighty

- 2005 National Poetry Series Selection, winner of the 2007 Paterson Poetry Prize, voted the best poetry book of 2006

Janna and the Kings

- winner of the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award

The Way Pilots Walk


- Pushcart Prize winner

Big Towns, Big Talk

- Carl Sandburg Literary Award Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1998 inducted into International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent, 2006 Four-time individual champion, National Poetry Slam. Recipient of awards from Women in Communications, Sigma Delta Chi, and United Press International.

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)

, contact agent. Alison Granucci Blue Flower Arts PO Box 1361 Millbrook, New York 12545 Email Phone 845 677 8559 Fax 845.677.6446