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Book Title

The Body's Question

Author 1
Tracy K. Smith; Selected and Introduced by Kevin Young
You are pure appetite. I am pure
Appetite. You are a phantom
In that far-off city where daylight
Climbs cathedral walls, stone by stolen stone.
—from "Self-Portrait as the Letter Y"

The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith received the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African-American poet, selected by Kevin Young. Confronting loss, historical intersections with race and family, and the threshold between childhood and adulthood, Smith gathers courage and direction from the many disparate selves encountered in these poems, until, as she writes, "I was anyone I wanted to be."

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Winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, The Body's Question debuts Tracy K. Smith's ambitious and engaging new voice

About the Author

Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith is the author of Wade in the Water, winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Life on Mars, winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award; and The Body’s Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the editor of an anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, and the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. From 2017 to 2019, Smith served as Poet Laureate of the United States. She teaches at Harvard University.
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Kevin  Young
Credit: Melanie Dunea
Kevin Young is the author of a previous book of nonfiction, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, which won the PEN Open Book Award, was recognized as a New York Times Notable Book, and named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Brown and Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995–2015. Young is the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and poetry editor for the New Yorker.
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  • “Smith takes a counterintuitive stance on everything from race to adolescence.”—SAVOY
  • “A spare, honest, and insightful debut verse collection.”—Essence
  • “THE BODY’S QUESTION is an answer to pure passion, but the beauty is that the brain isn’t divorced from the body. The strength of character in these marvelous poems delights and questions. Here’s a voice that can weave beauty and terror into one breath, and the unguarded revelations are never verbal striptease.”—Yusef Komunyakaa
  • “How delightful it is to fall under the lucid and quite more than lovely spell of Tracy K. Smith’s debut collection. Smith’s work is deceptively plainspoken, but these are poems that are powerfully wrought, inspiring in all the clarity of their many gospel truths. The Body's Question announces a remarkable new voice, brilliantly bundled, ingeniously belted down.”—Lucie Brock-Broido


This book is made possible, in part, through the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a first-book award dedicated to the discovery of exceptional manuscripts by African American poets, and by the generosity of Graywolf Press donors like you.
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