‘I was scared in a way that didn’t ask me to run from it, but asked me to stand in it’ – acclaimed poet Danez Smith on writing, mortality, and poetry as a medium for exploring the self

We are so excited to have finally had the opportunity to speak with award-winning poet and Minnesota native Danez Smith. Smith, who uses the pronouns they/them/their, spoke with host Lissa Jones about their genesis as a poet (they came to poetry through performance at Central High School in Saint Paul and credits renowned educator Jan Mandell for fostering exploration of the medium), exploring identity through poetry (they think of writing as a ‘safe-space’ where writers can undertake the important journey of self-discovery), the idea that using gender-neutral personal pronouns is evidence that language is finally catching up with people’s lived experience, and about the ways that Smith’s positive HIV diagnosis has made their explorations of mortality more tangible. “I didn’t know I wanted to live,” they say, “until I knew I could die.”

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Episode 39 – Danez Smith

On this episode of Black Market Reads, the acclaimed poet Danez Smith. Smith is the author of two award-winning collections of poetry: 2014’s [insert] boy which was awarded the winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry; and their most recent collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, published by Graywolf Press in 2017, which was winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award.

Smith is the author of two award-winning collections of poetry: [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014) which was awarded the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry; and Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) is the winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Montalvo Arts Center, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Danez is a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is the co-host of  VS a podcast sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness.

Readings:

13:26 – ‘Summer Somewhere’ (From Don’t Call Us Dead)

16:05 – ‘Alternate Names for Black Boys’


Go Deeper: Additional Materials

Watch Danez perform their poem ‘Alternate Heaven for Black Boys’ in 2016 (via Button Poetry on Youtube)
Learn more about Danez’s work on their website (www.danezsmithpoet.com):

Danez Smith. Poet.

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Listen to VS, the podcast Danez co-hosts with poet Franny Choi, on The Poetry Foundation website:

VS

The VS podcast is a bi-weekly series where poets confront the ideas that move them. Hosted by poets Danez Smith and Franny Choi, produced by Daniel Kisslinger, and presented by…

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