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Danez Smith becomes youngest winner of Forward poetry prize

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Chair of judges Bidisha pays tribute to collection Don’t Call Us Dead’s ‘passionate and very contemporary’ verse

The 29-year-old African American poet Danez Smith has beaten writers including the US poet laureate to become the youngest ever winner of the prestigious Forward prize for best poetry collection – and the first winner to identify as gender-neutral.

Smith, who prefers the pronoun “they”, confronts race, police brutality and gender in their collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, as well as their HIV-positive diagnosis. In its opening sequence, “summer, somewhere”, Smith imagines an afterlife for black men shot dead by the police. In “dear white America”, a poem that went viral on Youtube, Smith writes: “i can’t stand your ground. i’m sick of calling your recklessness the law. each night, i count my brothers. & in the morning, when some do not survive to be counted, i count the holes they leave.”

Related: ‘Every poem is political’: Danez Smith, the YouTube star shaking up poetry

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