Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith
PHOTO: JASON DECROW/AP IMAGES

Assistant professor Tracy K. Smith got a big surprise on her 40th birthday — the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. After returning from an April 16 run near her home in Brooklyn, her husband greeted her with the news he had read online.

A faculty member since 2006, Smith won the prize for her third poetry collection, Life on Mars. The Pulitzer Prize citation called the book “a collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.”

The poems deal with grief, the dark moments of human life, and the universe and were influenced by her late father, who worked on the Hubble Telescope.