Danez Smith is a Black, queer, HIV-positive writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. They were raised by their mother and grandparents in St. Paul’s Selby neighborhood. The young Smith, late to begin reading, was encouraged by a teacher who told them they’d be able to read video game magazines once they learned how. Smith, whose literary favorites as a teen included Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, began writing and performing poetry in high school. In 2012, they received a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where they were a First Wave Urban Arts Scholar.
Smith is the author of Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, as well as a finalist for the National Book Award. They also wrote [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and two chapbooks, hands on ya knees (Penmanship Books, 2013) and black movie (Button Poetry, 2015), which won the Button Poetry Prize. Smith’s third full-length collection, Homie (Graywolf, 2020) won the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Poetry.
Smith has received fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Montalvo Arts Center, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Their work has been featured widely, appearing on platforms such as Buzzfeed, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, Best American Poetry, Poetry Magazine, and on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. With Fatimah Asghar, Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels, and Jamila Woods,
Smith is a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective. They co-host the poetry podcast VS, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness, with Franny Choi.
Smith has been included in Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list and is the winner of a Pushcart Prize. Their poem “summer, somewhere” won the inaugural Poetry Society of America's Four Quartets Prize in 2018. A two-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, Smith is a 2011 Individual World Poetry Slam finalist and a three-time Rustbelt Individual Champion. They currently serve on the board of literary nonprofit Split This Rock and live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Photo by David Hong.