Graywolf’s Literary Salon hits National Book Awards jackpot with 3 nominees – Press

Graywolf Press began advertising its second annual Literary Salon a couple of months ago, with the evening’s centerpiece to be a conversation with their authors Carmen Maria Machado, Danez Smith and Layli Long Soldier. The Wolves had no idea when they planned the Sept. 27 event that all three writers would be longlisted for 2017 National Book Awards.

Machado is nominated for her debut, “Her Body and Other Parties: Stories,” and is also a finalist for the $50,000 Kirkus Prize. Smith, who grew up in St. Paul, is longlisted for his poetry collection “Don’t Call Us Dead,” and Long Soldier is a poetry nominee for “Whereas.”

“We had great hopes for these writers when we selected them for the Salon, but we never expected they would all be on longlists,” said Jeff Shotts, happy and proud Graywolf poetry and executive editor. “They are an amazing trio of important young writers and it’s exciting to catch them just as their stars are rising.”

Shotts expects the trio’s Salon conversation at Aria in Minneapolis to be wide-ranging and thoughtful, especially since these writers come from different ethnic backgrounds and ways of thinking. Machado is Latina and gay; Smith is African-American, gay and HIV-positive; and Long Soldier is Native American.

Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae and Shotts will “game show host” the conversation, Shotts joked. “We’ll have some questions to get the conversation started. What do all of them bring to the conversation about how their backgrounds come up in their writing in terms of gender, race, sexuality? How do they, and we as publisher, think clearly about the direction of this country?”

Here’s some background information on “this remarkable trio” as Shotts says. Whether you attend the Literary Salon at 6 p.m. Wednesday at  Aria, 105 First St. N., Mpls., you’ll want to read these authors because they’re going to have stellar careers.


if we dream the old world

we wake up hands up

sometimes we unfuneral a boy

who shot another boy to here

& who was once a reaper we make

a brother, a crush, a husband, a duet,

of sweet remission. say the word

i can make any black boy a savior

make him a flock of ravens

his body burst into ebon seraphs.

Smith, 28,  grew up in St. Paul’s Selby neighborhood and began writing poetry at St. Paul Central High School. He lives now in Minneapolis. Smith is an award-winning spoken word performer and won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry for his debut collection “[insert] boy.”

“Don’t call us Dead,” begins with a heart-wrenching section in which the poet imagines an afterlife for black men who died of violence, a place where there is the safety, love and longevity they deserved on earth. It weaves together racism, sexuality, grief, mortality. Even before publication, the collection was drawing attention. Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy K. Smith (published by Graywolf) sang Smith’s praises: “(His) is a voice we need now more than ever as living, feeling, complex, and conflicted beings. These poems of love extend beyond the erotic into the struggle for unity –not despite the realities of race but precisely because of what race has caused us to make of and do to one another … this is a mighty work, and a tremendous offering.”

Jeff Shotts calls Smith’s collection a “heart-stopper with a  big, ambitious voice but one that is very readable, and, boy, Danez is a remarkable reader of his work. He comes from a tradition of presenting the work in a vibrant manner.”

“Put on your seat belt.”


WHEREAS I query my uneasiness with the statement, “Native Peoples are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I shift in my seat a needle in my back. Though “unalienable,” they’re rights I cannot legally claim if placed within a Whereas Statement. Meaning whatever comes after the word “Whereas” and before the semicolon in a Congressional document falls short of legal grounds, is never cause to sue the Government, the Government’s courts say.

Long Soldier, who lives in Tszile, Ariz., in the Navajo Nation, is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She holds a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Bard College, and is a 2015 Lannan Literary fellow. In “Whereas,” she confronts the coercive language of the United State government in its responses, treaties and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes.

Prominent Native American author and activist Joy Harjo calls Long Soldier “one of the finest singers of her generation to be called through the doorway of poetry. Whereas, these poems are a young Oglala Lakota poet taking her place, as she follows in the path of buffalo, horses, Indian cars and patient ancestors.”


I kneel down next to it. It is a body with nothing it needs: no stomach or bones or mouth. Just soft indents. I crouch down and stroke its shoulder, or what I think is its shoulder.

It turns and looks at me. It has no eyes but still, it looks at me. She looks at me. She is awful but honest. She is grotesque but she is real.

This woman in Carmen Machado’s story “Eight Bites,” is looking at the fat she had removed surgically. Somehow, this part of her did not die but stayed with her until she died.

That’s the kind of fabulism in Machado’s collection, made up of stories about women’s lives, violence and love. A wife refuses to allow her husband to touch the green ribbon she wears around her neck (this one’s funny), women begin to evaporate, a lesbian somehow becomes pregnant with her lover’s child, and every episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” is reimagined

Marachado, who is in her early 30s, draws on sci-fi, horror, erotica and fantasy in this post-modern collection. She lives in Philadelphia with her wife.


Tickets are $30 for the Graywolf Literary Salon and can be purchased at


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