February 15, 2021

UCF will welcome poet Danez Smith for an online masterclass and reading on February 26 and 27 in collaboration with Valencia College. Smith will read from their newest book, Homie, recently named as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award.

Danez Smith is a Black, queer, poz writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. They are the author of Don’t Call Us Dead, winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection and Midwest Booksellers Choice Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. Smith also wrote [insert] boy, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry.

Smith’s third collection, Homie, was published by Graywolf in January 2020 and recently named as a National Book Critics Circle finalist. The award is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, Homie “comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer.” In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the book “an electrifying, unabashedly queer ode to friendship and community.”

This event is being organized by Valencia College, in partnership with UCF, as part of the Valencia Spring 2021 Visiting Author Series “Writing and Connecting in Times of Quarantine and Chaos.” Tori Grajeda, Valencia College professor of English and film and co-organizer of the event, dreamed of “bringing Valencia’s community into Smith’s warm presence, an opportunity for students, especially, to see and hear someone speak passionately to experiences that they and their communities share.”

Chrissy Kolaya, assistant professor of English at UCF and co-organizer of the event with Grajeda, is confident that Smith’s visit will have an impact on aspiring writers in attendance: “Smith’s work speaks to so many of our students, many of whom have encountered their performances in the spoken word community,” she says. “Perhaps, though, it’s best to let our students speak for themselves. Here’s how one of my undergraduate students responded when I shared the news: ‘Danez Smith is coming to UCF? I am going to faint! Danez Smith is my poetry GOD!’”

“Danez Smith demonstrates what it can sound like to speak with a voice that gets heard,” Grajeda explains. “My students often express the improbability that their voice will ever matter, and I think Smith’s work allows them to better imagine how their voices are important too.” Grajeda says there’s a necessity in letting students of color — about 60 percent of Valencia’s student population — know that they can address their society and speak to the inhumanities of our collective spaces, as Smith does with such vulnerability and vibrance.

“Smith, through their dynamic performances and masterful work on the page, reminds us that poetry — rather than existing mainly in dusty old anthologies — is a vital, living, contemporary practice,” explains Kolaya. “In Smith’s work, we find a voice that speaks with vivid honesty to the challenges of our world and lives today.”

UCF sponsors of the events include the College of Arts and Humanities, the Burnett Honors College, the Center for Humanities and Digital Research, the English Department, the Cypress Dome Society and Writers in the Sun.

For more information and to register for these online events, click here: https://tinyurl.com/smithdanez