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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 92nd Street Y

92nd St Y in New York, NYview map
Reading and in conversation with Morgan Parker. Tickets are $22.


  • “[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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