*WINNER OF THE FORWARD PRIZE FOR BEST COLLECTION 2018*
*A Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry 2017*
*A Financial Times and Telegraph Book of the Year 2018*
‘[Smith’s] poems are enriched to the point of volatility, but they pay out, often, in sudden joy’ The New Yorker
Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a ground-breaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality – the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood – and an HIV-positive diagnosis.
‘Some of us are killed / in pieces,’ Smith writes, ‘some of us all at once.’ Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes an America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.
"Tremendously moving, an exalting and longed-for acknowledgement of historical pain ... Smith’s ability to look death squarely in the eye and seize from it language that is fertile with myth, beauty and intellect is astonishing"
"A powerful and moving read. Smith pays tribute to the young black men America has lost to police shootings, racism and injustice, and writes disarmingly about life and sex with HIV, all in a restless verse"
"Haunting … This material is necessarily bleak, but Smith’s mercurial invention means it’s never merely grim … The visionary 23-page opener, “summer, somewhere” […] is something truly remarkable; a song from a sunlit afterlife, an “unpopular heaven” for black boys killed young, all delivered in taut couplets …Memorable, moving and imbued with moral purpose. I read and re-read this collection (particularly its opening poem) over several weeks… “summer, somewhere” is, by any measure, a brilliant poem"
"[Danez Smith’s] poems are enriched to the point of volatility, but they pay out, often, in sudden joy… they also know the magic trick of making writing on the page operate like the most ecstatic speech. And they are, in their cadences and management of lines, deeply literary. I hear Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest who jury-rigged his verse to express personal turmoil, and Hart Crane, whose gentleness was expressed in an American idiom full of thunderclap, and Allen Ginsberg, who loved and learned from them both. The addition of Smith’s star turns a random cluster of points into a constellation, the way new work of this calibre always does… In this moving, unsettling work, the question is not simply one of craft. It’s about how the body and its authority can be manifested in writing, with only the spindly trace of letters to stand in for it"
We asked five Penguin authors whose work explores racism, in fiction and nonfiction, to share the books they feel are crucial to understanding – and then acting on – racial injustice at home and worldwide.
Chatto & Windus author Danez, 29, became the youngest ever winner of the prize for their collection Don't Call Us Dead, with fellow Chatto author Liz Berry winning the prize for Best Poem with The Republic of Motherhood.