US poet Danez Smith has won the Forward Prize for best poetry collection for their work Don’t Call Us Dead.
The 29-year-old from Minnesota is the youngest ever winner of the prestigious £10,000 award. The African American poet has beaten writers including the US poet laureate to also become the first winner to identify as gender-neutral.
Smith is gay and gender-neutral, prefers to be referred to as “they”.
Smith’s winning collection confronts race and sexuality and includes the poem Dear White America, which has had more than 300,000 views on YouTube.
Broadcaster Bidisha chaired the judges and described Smith’s poetry collection as “utterly contemporary and exciting”.
Previous winners of the top prize include Carol Ann Duffy, Sinead Morrissey and Vahni Capildeo.
Bidisha said: “Showing an astonishing formal and emotional range and a mastery of metrical, musical language, Smith’s finely crafted poetry makes us look anew at the intertwined natures of politics and sexuality.
“[The collection] stands as a powerful warning, this is what’s happening, be alert, pay attention.”
In her review for The Guardian earlier this year, poet Sandeep Parmar said Smith’s collection “confronts American racism” and “speaks urgently for change”.
Smith said: “I hope someone out there will see my work – my black, queer loud-mouth work on this platform – and recognise the worthiness in themselves.”
Smith has also won the Lambda Literary Award for gay poetry for his collection [Insert] Boy and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017.
Two other Forward Prizes were also awarded on Tuesday – the £5,000 prize for best first collection went to Phoebe Power for Shrines of Upper Austria, while Liz Berry was awarded the £1,000 best single poem prize.