#AWP17 Featured Presenter Q&A with Danez Smith

AWP | January 2017

Event Title: A Reading and Conversation with Aracelis Girmay, Tim Seibles, and Danez Smith Sponsored by BOA Editions and Split This Rock
Description: Split This Rock and BOA Editions are proud to present three of the most vital poets writing and publishing in the US today. Representing three generations and writing in a stunning variety of poetic styles, the poets presented here take on the big questions with verve, power, and beauty: race and identity, our bloody history and its unrelenting legacy, the erotic as liberation and muse.
Participants: Aracelis Girmay, Tim Seibles, Danez Smith
Location:Ballroom C, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three
Date & Time: Saturday, February 11, 1:30 p.m.–2:45 p.m.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: I will be forever in love with Aziza Barnes’s i be, but i ain’t from YesYes Books and Rick Barot’s Chord from Sarabande Books. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s There Should Be Flowers knocked the wind out of me this last year, and I’m so glad that it’s in the world and available for all of us to dig into that much needed collection. I’m really looking forward to Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce (Tin House), Charif Shanahan’s Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing (Southern Illinois University Press), and Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas (Graywolf Press), all of which I’ll be buying ten copies of at the book fair and giving out to the people.

Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: Absolutely! Without funding for the arts, the programs that provided space for me to be an artist when I was younger—the spaces in which I felt I could be my blackest, queerest, weirdest, most authentic selves—wouldn’t have existed. When artists are taken care of we all are taken care of. What funds put food on another artist’s table, keep the doors of a space open, allow for some idea to exist beyond the plane of thought, those funds very well might fund the project or person or piece of work that inspires me, saves me, makes me feel seen and necessary. Good lord I hope we’re not living in the last days of good funding for artists (or the last days in general for that matter.)

Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs. Now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: My constant hope is that as the relationship between the culture of creative writing and academia becomes stronger, we don’t forget about the readers and writers who exist outside of those institutions. I worry that some view the MFA as a key to being a writer. It can be for some, for others, the experience has left them wounded and bruised. My friend and phenomenal poet L. Lamar Wilson reminded me recently that most of the folks who we, as in black diasporic writers, had no MFA, sometimes no formal college education. Why am I mentioning that? Idk. I just hope we don’t forget there are other ways to learn, study, be in community, and I hope we continue to respect those paths as the MFA becomes less and less of a new idea.

Q: What advice can you offer to writers who must navigate between the solitude of artistic work and our nation’s politics and culture at this moment?
A: Well, your solitude exists within your nation, as does your work. The problem with “this moment” is that it has been “this moment” for a while now and others are just awakening to the noise. If you’re just realizing how bad shit is, welcome to the party. If you need guidance on how your art can be protest, sanctuary, or blue-print, look to those who have guided us through the muck and mess of their “now”s to figure out how we will make it through ours.

Q: If you’ve been to Washington, DC, what places do you recommend our attendees visit?
A: Ben’s Chili Bowl. Go there. Eat everything. Covered in Chili.


Danez Smith Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy, winner of the Kate Tufts Award, and the forthcoming Don't Call Us Dead. He is a Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow and two-time World Poetry Slam finalist, a member of the Dark Noise Collective, and an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan.

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