Justin Phillip Reed wins National Book Award for Poetry

MFA alumnus receives prestigious honor for debut collection

Justin Phillip Reed

Justin Phillip Reed, a 2015 graduate of the MFA Writing Program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has won the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry. The award is generally considered among the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.

Streaking trails of violet
light, the wet street
reflects a rim of moon

and bursts into tears.
The snow
brushed gray-black with mud.

The deep art of these days.

— from “About a White City” by Justin Phillip Reed

Reed received the honor for his collection “Indecency” (Coffee House Press, 2018).

“Reed’s visceral and teasingly cerebral debut probes black identity, sexuality, and violence and is inseparably personal and political,” Publisher’s Weekly wrote upon the volume’s release. “He displays a searing sense of injustice about dehumanizing systems, and his speakers evoke the quotidian with formidable eloquence . . .”

Born and raised in South Carolina, Reed earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Tusculum College in Greenville, Tenn. He came to Washington University in 2013, where he served as junior writer-in-residence, eventually earning his master’s in fine arts. He has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Conversation Literary Festival and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis.

Reed is also author of the chapbook “A History of Flamboyance” (YesYes Books, 2016). His work has appeared in African American Review, Best American Essays, Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Obsidian and elsewhere. He currently lives in St. Louis, where he organizes the community-based poetry workshop series “Most Folks At Work.”

Read a Q&A with Reed in St. Louis Magazine.

Founded in 1950, the National Book Awards are organized by the National Book Foundation, which is dedicated to celebrating the best literature in America, expanding its audience and ensuring that books have a prominent place in American culture.

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