Danez Smith recommends their 6 favorite books
The acclaimed poet recommends works by Lucille Clifton, Kohei Horikoshi, and more
One of America's most acclaimed young poets, Danez Smith is the author of Don't Call Us Dead, a 2017 National Book Award finalist. Smith's new collection, Homie, celebrates the sustaining power of friendship in the LGBTQ community.
Man vs. Sky by Corey Zeller (2013).
In boundless, brief prose poems, Zeller embodies the voice of a recently passed-on friend as he travels through the afterlife. Besides haunting me with its beauty to this day, this collection taught me that we can offer the dead not just our grief but our imaginations and dreams as well.
Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler (1989).
This post-apocalyptic, alien-salvation trilogy from the novelist who predicted "Make America Great Again" asks necessary questions about the harmful structures we put our faith in despite our intelligence, and also how or if we will evolve out of our most dangerous selves. An essential, human book — with blue dreadlocked aliens!
My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi (2014–present).
I'm a sucker for high school drama, superpowers, good-hearted heroes, and complicated villains. This manga series is one of my favorite escapes. In a world where everybody and their mama has a superpower (literally), what makes someone a hero isn't about power or strength but about the desire to make people smile. Instant tears.
My bible. Open up to any page and Clifton delivers a word. Whether the subject is roaches, family, death, or surviving, she has a psalm for all occasions. She can create the most complicated magic out of the simplest words.
Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (2017).
When I was nominated for the National Book Award, I was rooting for this book to win. Long Soldier's poems take up many shapes, forms, and voices to masterfully achieve two of poetry's greatest potentials: to stretch and explode what language can do, and to reveal how language can dismantle and interrogate the mindset of nations that attempt to weaponize language against us.
Deus Ex Nigrum by Jasmine Reid (2019).
I recently picked this chapbook for a prize. It's a marvel of language and heart. Reid's lyrics map the mundane and the extraordinary with rare and invigorating skill. In a world and a country ever dangerous to the black trans femme, this poet says, "if I am to be a twist ending/let it be that I lived." I am so excited to follow Reid's poems into the future.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, try the magazine for a month here.