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Don't Call Us Dead

Danez Smith
history is what it is. it knows what it did.
bad dog. bad blood. bad day to be a boy
color of a July well spent. but here, not earth
not heaven, we can’t recall our white shirts
turned ruby gowns. here, there’s no language
for officer or law, no color to call white.
if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call
us dead, call us alive someplace better.
we say our own names when we pray.
we go out for sweets & come back.
—from “summer, somewhere”
Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin, body, and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing collection, one that confronts America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.     

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"Danez Smith's is a voice we need . . . . This is a mighty work and a tremendous offering." (Tracy K. Smith)

About the Author

Danez  Smith
Credit: David Hong
Danez Smith is the author of Don’t Call Us Dead. Smith’s debut poetry collection, [insert] boy, won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award. Smith has received fellowships from the McKnight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Foundation, and has published poems in Granta, Poetry, and The Best American Poetry. Smith lives in Minneapolis.
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Upcoming Events

Danez Smith reading at the Loft Literary Center as part of the Loft Mentor Series

The Loft at Open Book in Minneapolis, MNview map
Reading with Loft Mentor Series fellows Haeyoon Fry and Hilal Isler. Tickets are $10, $5 for members.

Graywolf at 45: Minneapolis Literary Gala

Aria in Minneapolis, MNview map

Celebrate Graywolf's forty-five years of adventurous publishing and welcome our biggest literary stars to our home town

The 2019 Graywolf Literary Gala will feature Eula Biss (On ImmunityNotes from No Man's Land), Maggie Nelson (The ArgonautsThe Red Parts), and Claudia Rankine (CitizenThe White Card) with introductions by Danez Smith (Don't Call Us Dead).

Join us for a wonderful evening featuring three authors who embody Graywolf's mission, and enjoy a gourmet appetizer and cocktail reception followed by a seated program with wine, cheese, and desserts. As Graywolf looks back on forty-five years of adventurous publishing, help us celebrate becoming a destination press for some of the most ground-breaking writers of our time.

Tickets on sale starting March 1, 2019. Single tickets are $275, and two or more tickets are $250 each ($75 of each ticket is not tax-deductible). Sponsorships are available starting at $1,000; to learn more, contact Rachel Fulkerson at

All proceeds support Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of twenty-first century American and international literature.


  • “[Danez Smith's] poems are enriched to the point of volatility, but they pay out, often, in sudden joy. . . . But they also know the magic trick of making writing on the page operate like the most ecstatic speech.”The New Yorker
  • “[A] stunning collection. . . . These pieces pulse with the rhythms and assertiveness one expects from poetry slams.”The Washington Post
  • “Smith activates a spectrum of emotions in material that could justifiably remain tragic, bringing pathos and several senses of humor.”The Nation
  • “This will be one of the year’s essential books.”—NPR
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