Robert Lowell Memorial Poetry Readings

In the Spirit of Room 222

In the late 1950s, Robert Lowell led a workshop whose students included three younger writers: George Starbuck, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath. This legendary group gathered in the same small, corner classroom where our creative writing workshops continue to meet. The Robert Lowell Memorial Lectures celebrate this legacy, and the thriving community of writers, teachers and students at Boston University, by bringing a distinguished poet to campus each semester to read alongside a recent graduate of the program.

The Robert Lowell Memorial Reading series is made possible due to the generous support of Fred Levin and his late wife Nancy Livingston (COM ’69). Thanks to Fred’s continuing support, the Lowell Memorial Reading Series takes place twice a year as it has since 2004.

Spring 2022 In-Person Reading

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith with BU Alumna Kirun Kapur
The Robert Lowell Memorial Reading Series

Tuesday, April 12, 7:30pm at the Leventhal Center


Tracy K. Smith received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her third book of poems, Life on Mars. The collection draws upon the genre of science fiction in considering who we humans are and what the vast universe holds for us. In poems of political urgency, tenderness, elegy and wit, Smith conjures version upon version of the future, imagines the afterlife, and contemplates life here on earth in our institutions, cities, houses and hearts. Life on Mars was a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a New Yorker, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.

Smith’s debut collection, The Body’s Question, was selected by Kevin Young as winner of the Cave Canem Prize for the best first book by an African American poet. Straddling languages, speakers, and geographies, the poems bear witness to love, loss, and belonging while laying claim to a large and nimble sense of identity. In his introduction, Young writes, “Smith…seems perfectly at home speaking of grief and loss, of lust and hunger, of joy and desire—which here often means the desire for desire, and a desire for language itself.”

Duende, Smith’s second book, received the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. The collection takes its title from a term Federico Garcia Lorca brought into broad parlance. The duende is the wild, unpredictable and oftentimes dangerous energy an artist might seek to conjure up and contend with. Unlike the Muse, which exists beyond or above the artist, the duende sleeps deep within—as pure urge, fury, chaos, and passion—waiting to be awakened and wrestled, often at great cost. In Smith’s hands, this sense of artistic struggle and daring meets up with forms of social and political struggle, resistance and survival. It also illuminates the private upheaval of divorce and its aftermath.

In her memoir, Ordinary Light, Smith explores her own experience of race, religion, and the death of her mother shortly after Smith graduated from Harvard. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, and named a Notable Book by both the New York Times and Washington Post.

Smith’s fourth book of poems, Wade in the Water, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for its examination of the grave contradictions tied up in America’s history. In documentary “found” and “erasure” poems, Smith unravels the knot of racism and denial as the central conundrum of America, and she forges a vocabulary of compassion as a possible route forward through our current strife. In 2019 a selection of her poetry titled Eternity: Selected Poems was published in the UK. In 2020 Smith and Changtai Bi, co-translated Chinese poet Yi Lei’s book of poetry My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree. In 2021 she edited, with John Freeman, the prose anthology There’s A Revolution Outside, My Love, Letters from a Crisisand was guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2021. Her new book of poetry is Such Color: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, October 5, 2021).

Smith served two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States, during which time she traveled across America, hosting poetry readings and conversations in rural communities. She edited the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time during her laureateship, and launched the American Public Media podcast The Slowdown.  In March 2021 she was voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Smith wrote the libretto for an opera titled Castor and Patience. Rooted in a conflict over historically black-owned land, the work is a collaboration with composer Gregory Spears. Originally set to premiere in July 2020 with the Cincinnati Opera, the work has been postponed to the 2022 Summer Festival.

Smith is Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Biography courtesy of The Steven Barclay Agency

Kirun Kapur is the winner of the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry and the Antivenom Poetry Award for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (Elixir Press, 2015). Her second collection, Women in the Waiting Room (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and was included in the Best Books of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews. Named an “Asian-American poet to watch” by NBC News, her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares and many other journals. She has been granted fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Vermont Studio Center and MacDowell Colony. Kapur serves as editor at the Beloit Poetry Journal, one of the nation’s oldest poetry publications. She teaches at Amherst College, where she is director of the Creative Writing Program.

Read below to see who has read for the Lowell series in the past!

Fall 2021: Gail Mazur and Aaron Caycedo-Kimura

Spring 2021: Peter Balakian and Susan Barba (Photo by Mark DiOrio)

Fall 2020: Natasha Trethewey and Megan Fernandes

Spring 2020: Naomi Shihab Nye and Katherine Hollander

Spring 2019: Mark Halliday and Heather Green

Fall 2018: Marilyn Chin and Tara Skurtu

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Spring 2018: Jane Hirshfield and Natasha Hakimi

Jane Hirshfield

Fall 2017: Mark Doty and Tomas Unger

Tom Sleigh

Spring 2017: Tom Sleigh and Laura Marris

Rita Dove

Fall 2016: Rita Dove and Duy Doan

CD Wright

Spring 2016: Tribute to C.D. Wright

Yusef Komunyakaa and Vanesha Pravin

Fall 2015: Yusef Komunyakaa and Vanesha Pravin

Robert Hass and Meg Tyler

Spring 2015: Robert Hass and Meg Tyler

Sharon Olds and Renee Emerson

Fall 2014: Sharon Olds and Renee Emerson

Paul Muldoon and Bekah Stout

Spring 2014: Paul Muldoon and Bekah Stout

John Ashbery and Sophie Grimes

Fall 2013: John Ashbery and Sophie Grimes

Spring 2013: Terrance Hayes and Ani Gjika

Spring 2013: Terrance Hayes and Ani Gjika


Fall 2012: C.K. Williams and Eleanor Goodman

Fall 2012: C.K. Williams and Eleanor Goodman

Spring 2012: Jorie Graham and Patrick Ryan Frank

Spring 2012: Jorie Graham and Patrick Ryan Frank

Fall 2011: Henri Cole and Sara Peters

Fall 2011: Henri Cole and Sara Peters

Spring 2011: Kay Ryan and Katherine Hollander

Spring 2011: Kay Ryan and Katherine Hollander


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