Danez Smith, Youngest Winner of Top UK Poetry Prize, Wants Trump Fans to Read Their Work - NBC4 Washington
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Danez Smith, Youngest Winner of Top UK Poetry Prize, Wants Trump Fans to Read Their Work

At 29 years old, Danez Smith is the youngest and first gender-neutral poet to win the Forward Prize for best poetry collection



    Danez Smith, Youngest Winner of Top UK Poetry Prize, Wants Trump Fans to Read Their Work
    David Hong
    Danez Smith's "Don't Call Us Dead" won the 2018 Foward prize for best collection.

    Baptist bishops preaching from the pulpit are poets. The wino on the corner is a poet. Grandparents who repeat oral stories from the comfort of their favorite chair are poets, too. 

    That’s what Danez Smith, the newest and youngest poet to receive a prestigious British Forward Prize, believes. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native is also the first gender-neutral poet to win the £10,000 ($13,083) prize for best collection. Smith, who prefers the pronouns “they” and “them,” defeated the 2018 U.S. Poet Laureate Tracey K. Smith at the Sept. 18 event.

    “We all have poets in our lives,” Smith said. “Poetry is for all of us, because poetry helps us see ourselves as human. [Poems] are mirrors that help me see my flesh is actually flesh and not imagined.”

    The 29-year-old's prize winning 2017 collection, “Don’t Call Us Dead,” details the poet's struggles as an African-American queer individual facing police brutality, white supremacy and their own HIV-positive diagnosis.

    Clerk Pulls Out Machete on Would-Be Robber

    [NATL] Clerk Pulls Out Machete on Would-Be Robber

    A would-be robber armed with a knife had a surprise in store when an Alabama store clerk pulled out a machete in defense. The two's brief knife fight was caught on camera before the clerk runs out to damage the robber's car.

    According to police, suspect Seth Holcomb walked up to the counter to make a purchase. He leaves the store and then comes back in as if to make a second purchase. Then, he pulled out a knife at the counter. What he didn't expect was that the clerk would pull out a machete of his own.

    (Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019)

    Smith, who was also a 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Fellow, explained they used their collection to speak to “black people, queer people, people who know what it's like to live with illness.” But Smith also hopes their work touches people who don’t fit into those categories.

    “I hope that the most Trump supporting of readers stumble upon my collection and think about what it means to be queer,” Smith said. “There is a reading of the book that requires that even if they don’t know these lives, they can sit down it and consider it.”

    British filmmaker, poet and journalist Bidisha chaired the judge’s panel for the competition. She said that Smith's wide range included "sexuality and desire, yearning, vulnerability, but also creativity and determination in the face of oppression, stereotyping and the threat of violence.”

    While inequality and injustice are "ever-present" in Smith's work, "so are hope, liveliness and the desire to speak truth to power.”

    The filmmaker added that although other poets' collections included those themes, Smith “brought them all together with a very fresh voice and a certain energy.”

    One poem in the prize-winning collection, “summer, somewhere,” describes a black-men-only afterlife.

    YouTube Mom Accused of Abusing Foster Kids for Clicks

    [NATL] YouTube Mom Accused of Abusing Foster Kids for Clicks

    Machelle Hackney of Maricopa, Arizona, is accused of forcing her adopted children to participate in her YouTube channel and abusing them if they did not recall their lines or perform as directed. Hackney's channel had accrued hundreds of millions of views since she joined in 2012.

    (Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019)

    “I am trying to offer humility and peace to people that were only offered chaos,” Smith explained. “If we can't have hope and we can’t have peace, we can have it somewhere else.”

    “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” which reimagines a “Jurassic Park”-like movie in a black culture context, is another favorite.

    “We need to see ourselves as alive and worthy of something as silly as a movie, not just worthy of being on the news,” Smith said in describing the poem.

    “Dear White America,” another poem in the collection focusing on white supremacy, reached more than 340,000 views after it was posted on YouTube in 2014.

    Smith described their excitement at winning the Forward Prize. 

    “It was a magical experience to receive such an award in a country I don’t live in, but we share the same language," Smith, a current Minneapolis resident, said. “We really do something that extends beyond all borders. Poetry is the country that I live in and I'm happy to be in it.”

    Poet Niall Campbell — a panel judge along with poets Jen Campbell, Mimi Khalvati and Chris McCabe — shared a similar sentiment about poetry’s ability to surpass borders and cultures.

    “Danez writes about race and oppression in an American context — and brings the world’s spotlight there — but also, like all good poetry, it is transferable,” he said. “It is a book about love and anger, oppression and the demand for justice that will find a home in countless countries.”

    More than being a recognition of Smith’s skill, the black queer poet’s win will also show other LGBTQ poets and poets of color that their work matters, Jen Campbell said she hoped.

    “As a queer person with a disfigurement, I longed to see myself in the literature I read as a child and rarely did,” Jen Campbell said. “It brings me joy that not only can everyone read Danez's poetry and be wowed by their skill, but that they are now perhaps more visible to those who need to see them, and by institutions who should be paying more attention.”

    Bidisha said that the diversity of the 15 poets on the prize's shortlist has already demonstrated that the “closely guarded upper echelons of poetic prestige” are becoming more inclusive.

    “A poet is not an old white heterosexual male philanderer talking about what he saw on his walk,” she said. “It is a woman, a queer person, a trans person, a poet in translation, a poet in transit, a poet in exile. All that matters is voice and craft. Poetry must no longer judge by appearances or replicate snobberies or reinforce the boys' club."

    Burials Begin for Victims of New Zealand Mosque Attacks

    [NATL] Burials Begin for Victims of New Zealand Mosque Attacks

    The first of 50 victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks were buried Wednesday as new Zealand tries to heal in the wake of the horrific attacks.

    (Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019)

    Having broken into these “upper echelons,” Smith plans to focus on grinding out their next collection.

    “Prizes don’t make the poet, poems do,” Smith said.