2016 PoetryLife

This year PoetryLife brings you multiple events that will provide memorable experiences to learn, love and live poetry. Each event will bring together the poets and readers of our community to share their words and perspectives. Tickets can be purchased by calling the FST Box Office at (941) 366-9000 or by clicking the events below.

Event Schedule

Coffee and Conversation
Friday April 22nd 2:00pm  |  Bowne’s Lab Theatre
Tickets $15

Poetry as a Gateway to Reality. Tracy K. Smith, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry 2012, and Richard Blanco, Presidential Inaugural Poet 2009, will engage with the audience in a discussion of how poets use language to help us see our world more clearly. We live in anxious times. Our public discourse is full of worried talk about immigration, economics, education, climate change - all while a presidential campaign blusters around us. Can poetry help illuminate our understanding of the social environment we inhabit? Come to Florida Studio Theatre, have a cup of coffee (or tea), and jump into the conversation.

Young Voices Poetry Reading
Saturday April 23rd 1:00pm  |  Bowne’s Lab Theatre
Tickets $15

We live in a city that encourages creativity in all our students and that places a great emphasis on the arts. Poetry is alive and well among our youngsters and this reading is a showcase of the talent that has been nurtured in our local schools. Please join the middle and high school students who have won this year’s PoetryLife writing contest, their families and their friends for an afternoon of poetry that is bound to make you proud to be part of our community. Special guest poets, Tracy K. Smith, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry 2012, and Richard Blanco, Presidential Inaugural Poet 2009, will be on hand to engage these young people in a discussion of poetry and its importance in our changing world.

Community Favorite Poem Reading
Saturday April 23rd 4:00pm  |  Keating Theatre
Tickets $15

The Favorite Poem Reading has become a much anticipated tradition in Sarasota. Members of the community come together to read the poems they love best - those that hold special meaning to them. Local readers will be joined on stage by our guest poets, Tracy K. Smith, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry 2012, and Richard Blanco, Presidential Inaugural Poet 2009. Would you like to apply to be a reader? Applications are available at Bookstore1Sarasota (1359 Main Street in downtown Sarasota) or online at www.poetrylife.org and will be accepted through March 25th.

Tracy K. Smith and Richard Blanco Live Reading
Saturday April 23rd 7:00pm  |  Keating Theatre
Tickets $25

Smith and Blanco, among the best poets in the world, will read their own work. Tracy K. Smith’s poems embody the lyrical, rhythmic quality of masters such as Federico García Lorca. At times political, whimsical, and always meditative, they speak largely to the role of art and to the conception of what it means to be American, dealing with the evolution and decline of the culture we belong to. Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Richard Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him.This will be an evening you’ll remember for a very long time.

Tracy K. Smith
Pulitzer Prize in Poetry 2012

Tracy K. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Duende (2007) won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award. The Body’s Question (2003) was the winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith was the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers Award in 2004 and a Whiting Award in 2005. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was published in 2015.

Smith’s poems embody the lyrical, rhythmic quality of masters such as Federico García Lorca. At times political, whimsical, and always meditative, they speak largely to the role of art and to the conception of what it means to be American, dealing with the “evolution and decline of the culture we belong to.” Her work also explores the dichotomy between the ordered world and the irrationality of the self, the importance of submitting oneself willingly to the “ongoing conflict” of life and surviving nonetheless. For Smith, in her own words, poetry is a way of “stepping into the mess of experience.”

After her undergraduate work at Harvard, Smith earned her MFA at Columbia before going on to be a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University, and has also taught at Columbia, City University of New York, and the University of Pittsburgh. 


Richard Blanco
Inaugural Poet for Barack Obama 2009

Richard Blanco is the fifth inaugural poet in US history - the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban-exiled parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. 

He is the author of the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey; the poetry chapbooks One Today and Boston Strong; and the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires. Currently, he is collaborating with renowned illustrator Dav Pilkey on a children’s book of his poem One Today.

Blanco’s many awards include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the Thom Gunn Award. A builder of cities as well as poems, Blanco holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and an M.F.A in Creative Writing. He has received numerous honors for his writings and performances, including honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island, and has been named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. He has taught at Central Connecticut State University, Georgetown University, and American University. Blanco splits his time between Bethel, Maine and Boston, Mass.

Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?

PoetryLife Contest Information

Adult Contest Guidelines

Submit your poem to win! The First-place winner will be invited to read at a luncheon event featuring Tracy K. Smith and Richard Blanco, at Florida Studio Theatre at noon on Friday, April 22, 2016.

The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2015.  

Submissions may be emailed to [email protected] OR dropped off at Bookstore1Sarasota, OR mailed to Bookstore1Sarasota, 1359 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236. Put “Adult Contest” in the subject line of your email or on the outside of the envelope. Please submit no more than 3 poems. The poems must have no personal identifying marks on them, only the title and the poem itself. Please do not put multiple poems on one page. Please do not submit poems entitled "untitled."

On a separate sheet include the following:

  • the title of the poem
  • your name 
  • email address
  • phone number 

When emailing submissions the poem and the information sheet must be separate .doc or .docx pages. By submitting your work you agree that, should your poem(s) be selected, it/they may be published in a PoetryLife printed anthology. Contests will be judged by Vanderbilt's MFA students under the direction of professor and poet Rick Hilles.

Questions? Please email Georgia Court at [email protected] or call her at 941-365-7900.


Student Contests
College Student Guidelines

Up to three students will be selected. All will be invited to be our guests at a reading by PoetryLife's featured poets, Tracy K. Smith and Richard Blanco, at Florida Studio Theatre on the evening of Saturday, April 23, 2016. First place winner will receive $100 in cash and will be invited to read his/her winning poem as the "opening act" for the April 23rd reading by Smith and Blanco.

The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2015.  

Submissions may be emailed to [email protected] OR dropped off at Bookstore1Sarasota, OR mailed to Bookstore1Sarasota, 1359 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236. Put “College Poetry” in the subject line of your email or on the outside of the envelope. Please submit no more than 3 poems. The poems must have no personal identifying marks on them, only the title and the poem itself. Please do not put multiple poems on one page. Please do not submit poems entitled "untitled."

On a separate sheet include the following: 

  • the title of the poem
  • student’s name 
  • name of school 
  • email address
  • phone number 

When emailing submissions the poem and the information sheet must be separate .doc or .docx pages. By submitting your work you agree that, should your poem(s) be selected, it/they may be published in a PoetryLife printed anthology. Contests will be judged by Vanderbilt University's MFA students under the direction of professor and poet Rick Hilles.

Questions? Please email Georgia Court at [email protected] or call her at 941-365-7900.


Middle + High School Students

Up to twenty students from the Sarasota area will be selected to read their own poetry on Saturday morning April 23, 2016 at Florida Studio Theatre as part of PoetryLife’s Spring Edition. Each selected student will be asked to read one of his/her own poems. The audience will include our featured poets,Tracy K. Smith and Richard Blanco. Readings will be followed by a discussion among Blanco, Smith, the students and the audience. This represents a unique opportunity to interact with two of our nation’s finest poets.

The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2015.  

Submissions may be emailed to [email protected], OR dropped off at Bookstore1Sarasota, OR mailed to Bookstore1Sarasota, 1359 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236. Put “Student Poetry” in the subject line of your email or on the outside of the envelope. Note: If teachers wish they may submit poems on their students’ behalf. Please submit  no more than 3 poems. The poems must have no personal identifying marks on them, only the title and the poem itself. Please do not put multiple poems on one page. Please do not submit poems entitled “untitled.”

On a separate sheet include the following for each of your poems:

  • the title of the poem
  • student’s name, email address and 
  • phone number
  • student’s grade in school
  • name of school
  • teacher’s name, email address, and phone number
  • Home Schooled Students: Please include contact information for your parent or guardian.

When emailing submissions the poem(s) and the information sheet(s) must be separate .doc or .docx pages. By submitting your work you agree that, should your poem(s) be selected, it/they may be published in a PoetryLife printed anthology. Contest judged by Vanderbilt University’s MFA students under the direction of professor and poet Rick Hilles.

Questions? Please email Georgia Court at [email protected] or call her at 941-365-7900.