Justin Phillip Reed

I wrote the poems in Indecency because I had not found them elsewhere. I needed text to represent and then transform the way that my body and my many iterations of self move through my life and its various environments.

2018 winner of the national book award in poetry

Library Journal Best Books of 2018




Within the containment of mostly invented forms, Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency is the ‘carnal weight’ I’ve longed for in poetry. It’s the guttural dream of utterance that strokes and pokes the body. Reed’s deft craft is so rare, so precise, and driven by language whose surface is texture like teeth, that it seems like freed speech into the ache of repressive histories, white gazes, and uninvited invasions. Violence in Reed’s hands is no longer a thing somewhere out there but is inside the heart, as close as any black desire. Indecency is the new duende. It is like no other book I’ve read; Reed is an extraordinary talent.
— Dawn Lundy Martin
Reed’s visceral and teasingly cerebral debut probes black identity, sexuality, and violence and is inseparably personal and political. He displays a searing sense of injustice about dehumanizing systems, and his speakers evoke the quotidian with formidable eloquence . . .
Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Justin Phillip Reed is the winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry for Indecency (Coffee House Press, 2018), which Library Journal called, “one of a kind brilliant.” The National Book Award poetry jury celebrated the book as “political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful,” and Vox praised it as “an unflinching exploration of power, race, sexuality, gender, the personal and the political.” Reed is also the author of the chapbook A History of Flamboyance (YesYes Books, 2016). His poetry appears in African American Review, Best American Essays, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere.

Poets & Writers included him in their annual look at debut poets, and asked Reed for advice he would give other poets. He responded, “Be patient and respect your instincts. Write the book you never expected to have in you. Contest judges and publishers, if they are right for you, can wait for that. Take time away from your manuscript and return with renewed energy. Recruit a few invested readers of your work—not many—and hear their feedback. Remember that you’re creating an artwork with which you will, fortunately, have to live.”

Born and raised in South Carolina, Reed was a three-time high school expellee and an ex-college dropout. He went on to receive his BA in creative writing at Tusculum College and his MFA in poetry at Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as Junior Writer-in-Residence. He has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Conversation Literary Festival, and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. He currently lives and works in St. Louis.



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