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The 2020 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is now open (Jan 1–31). Submit your manuscript here.


Donika Kelly
I thought myself lion and serpent. Thought
myself body enough for two, for we.
Found comfort in never being lonely.
What burst from my back, from my bones, what lived
along the ridge from crown to crown, from mane?
to forked tongue beneath the skin. What clamor
we made in the birthing. What hiss and rumble
at the splitting, at the horns and beard,?
at the glottal bleat. What bridges our back.
What strong neck, what bright eye. What menagerie
are we. What we’ve made of ourselves.
—from “Love Poem: Chimera”
Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters—half human and half something else. Donika Kelly’s Bestiary is a catalog of creatures—from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel from “Out West” to “Back East.” Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Selected and with an introduction by the National Book Award Winner Nikki Finney, Bestiary questions what it is that makes us human, that makes us whole.

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Donika Kelly’s fierce debut collection, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize

About the Author

Donika  Kelly
Credit: Ladan Osman
Donika Kelly is a poet and scholar. Her poems have appeared in Buzzfeed, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and the Virginia Quarterly Review. She teaches at St. Bonaventure University and lives in upstate New York.
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Upcoming Events

FutureLit: A Conversation & Celebration with Danez Smith, Donika Kelly, and Malcolm Tariq

BAM Fisher in Brooklyn, NYview map

What is the sustenance within storytelling? How do we make a vessel for difficult conversations? Where does art live in the body?

Graywolf Press partners with BAM to present an evening of readings and conversation with authors that are writing us into the future and broadening literary horizons. Select Graywolf authors present original work, prompting dialogue about what the future of art holds, written and otherwise. Afterwards, we offer nourishment, drinks, spaces to mingle, and comfortable corners to read, and invite attendees to help cultivate a collective space to dream, dialogue, and recreate. We’ll open the floor to music and dancing and encourage you to continue the conversation as you like, through movement, language, or an expression of your choosing.

Books will be available for purchase through Greenlight Bookstore, BAM’s official bookseller, with selections by featured authors available at a special 15% discount for attendees of this event.


  • “[Bestiary] is a testament to poetry’s ability to capture and refine emotion.”The New York Times Book Review
  • “[A] magical poetry debut. . . . Poems about an abusive father yield to those about creatures of legend . . . and the human act of reclaiming your life by telling your story.”O, The Oprah Magazine
  • “Stunning. . . . Bestiary asserts the will to survive and the power of reinvention.”San Francisco Chronicle
  • “[An] astounding debut. . . . Kelly’s creatures howl and whimper as she imparts emotional truths.”Publishers Weekly, starred review
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