Hailed by Roxane Gay as “one of the most exciting poets writing today,” Danez Smith is the author of two chapbooks and three groundbreaking collections that tackle the intersection of race, gender, and social justice with rhythm and raw vulnerability. 2014’s [insert] boy won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, 2017’s Don’t Call Us Dead was shortlisted for the National Book Award, and 2020’s Homie – a celebration of friendship and solidarity in the LGBTQ community – was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and the NAACP Image Award for Poetry.
As a Black, non-binary, HIV-positive writer, Smith’s work carries a moral urgency that underlines the power of poetry as political act. A world-renowned spoken word performer, they are a two-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, three-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam Champion, and a founding member of the multigenre, multicultural Dark Noise Collective. They have received fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sharing six of their all-time favorite books with The Week, Smith included a post-apocalyptic Octavia Butler novel, a manga homage to super-hero comics, and a radical poetry book written “to stretch and explode what language can do.” Explore their recommendations below, and complement with the reading lists of Ada Limón, Amanda Gorman, Ocean Vuong and Rupi Kaur.
Man vs. Sky by Corey Zeller
“In boundless, brief prose poems, Zeller embodies the voice of a recently passed-on friend as he travels through the afterlife. Besides haunting me with its beauty to this day, this collection taught me that we can offer the dead not just our grief but our imaginations and dreams as well.” -DS
Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
“This post-apocalyptic, alien-salvation trilogy from the novelist who predicted ‘Make America Great Again’ asks necessary questions about the harmful structures we put our faith in despite our intelligence, and also how or if we will evolve out of our most dangerous selves. An essential, human book — with blue dreadlocked aliens!” -DS
My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
“I’m a sucker for high school drama, superpowers, good-hearted heroes, and complicated villains. This manga series is one of my favorite escapes. In a world where everybody and their mama has a superpower (literally), what makes someone a hero isn’t about power or strength but about the desire to make people smile. Instant tears.” -DS
“My bible. Open up to any page and Clifton delivers a word. Whether the subject is roaches, family, death, or surviving, she has a psalm for all occasions. She can create the most complicated magic out of the simplest words.” -DS
Whereas by Layli Long Soldier
“When I was nominated for the National Book Award, I was rooting for this book to win. Long Soldier’s poems take up many shapes, forms, and voices to masterfully achieve two of poetry’s greatest potentials: to stretch and explode what language can do, and to reveal how language can dismantle and interrogate the mindset of nations that attempt to weaponize language against us.” -DS
Deus Ex Nigrum by Jasmine Reid
“I recently picked this chapbook for a prize. It’s a marvel of language and heart. Reid’s lyrics map the mundane and the extraordinary with rare and invigorating skill. In a world and a country ever dangerous to the black trans femme, this poet says, ‘if I am to be a twist ending/let it be that I lived.’ I am so excited to follow Reid’s poems into the future.” -DS
(via The Week)