By Nadir Roberts
The Library auditorium was packed on Thursday, Oct. 19 with dozens of poets, listeners and supporters of INK’s Visiting Writers Series. This time the poet was Danez Smith, who provided a vivacious performance and captivated the audience.
Smith’s multitude of awards and accomplishments make them an astounding poet and author.
In 2014, Smith won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, in addition to being a two-time Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, and three-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam Individual Champion. Smith also has two poetry chapbooks, and two books entitled “[Insert] Boy” and “Don’t Call Us Dead.”
From the very moment Smith stepped foot on the stage, Smith had the crowd involved and excited.
When asked how Smith always conjured up their excitement to perform, they said that being a comedian was their dream job and that their appreciation for stand up leads to their outgoing and happy nature.
“The more energy y’all give, the more the performer does,” Smith said.
Smith discovered their love for poetry and spoken word their freshman year of high school through a theater assignment. Since then they have been writing poetry and performing.
“My blood is in cahoots with the law but today I can say I’m alive,” said Smith in one of their pieces.
Smith’s poetry for the night revolved around the topics of their personal life, problems in black America and their sexuality.
Isiah Sams, a sophomore philosophy major, listened to Smith for the first time and was astonished.
“(Smith) was amazing,” Sams said. “I wasn’t expecting this type of performance — it was mind blowing.”
As an aspiring poet, Sams liked that Smith incorporated their personal experiences into their poetry and writing.
“It sets (them) apart,” Sams said.
Smith’s performance provided a fun lighthearted time, but also carried a rather serious tone.
Smith was able to capitalize on many prevalent issues not addressed regularly about racism in America, and their experiences as a queer black male. With titles like “Genesissy,” “Alternate Heaven for Black Boys” and “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” their pieces sent a strong message to the audience.
Throughout the night, many snaps were heard but their poem, “Dear White America,” seemed to resonate most with the audience.
“Because there is no Amber Alert for the Amber Skinned Girls! Because our heroes always end up shot or shootin-up!” Smith shouted.
Toward the end of Smith’s set, Smith opened up a Q&A session and offered critical advice for upcoming poets and writers.
“You have to write what scares you,” Smith said. In addition, Smith suggested that students take a theater class, seek mentorship and most importantly read.
Before Smith took hold of the crowd, the night kicked off with two performers from the College.
The 2017 spring and fall “Slam Down The Walls” poetry slam champions, Kendel Stiles, a junior political science major, and Kristen Cefaloni, a mathematics and secondary education dual major, shared their own pieces and captivated the crowd.
Cefaloni had the opportunity to be an opening act for Smith, and said she was “blown away” by their performance. As co-publicist, Cefaloni loves what INK has been able to do, both personally and for the community.
“It’s nice to sit down with creative writers, ” Cefaloni said. The event was for poets and nonpoets alike. “It’s great for people who aren’t English majors but enjoy poetry and writing.”
Update (10/26/2017 10:46 a.m.) The print edition of this article incorrectly included references to Smith with the pronouns “he/him/his.” The online edition has been updated to reflect Smith’s preferred pronouns, they/them/their.