Former UW-Madison First Wave Urban Arts performance poet Danez Smith has won the prestigious Forward Prize for Best Collection in London, England, and at age 29, is the youngest poet ever to win.
The winning collection – “Don’t Call Us Dead” – for Smith, who currently lives in Minneapolis, confronts race and sexuality and includes the poem “Dear White America,” which has had more than 300,000 views on YouTube.
Smith’s verses reflect experiences as a young, HIV-positive African-American and use the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” The prizes were awarded at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Sept. 18. Smith’s prize for the award included 10,000 pounds, which is about $13,000.
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a First Wave Urban Arts Scholar. Smith is also a founding member of the multigenre, multicultural Dark Noise Collective.
Smith has also won the Lambda Literary Award for gay poetry for the collection [Insert] Boy and authored the book “Don’t Call Us Dead,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award for poetry in 2017. Earlier this year, Smith won the inaugural Four Quartets Prize from the Poetry Society of America and the T.S. Eliot Foundation.