Justin Phillip Reed wins National Book Award for Poetry

MFA alumnus receives prestigious honor for debut collection

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

Reed received the honor for his debut 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, Tennessee. He came to Washington University in 2013, 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.

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.

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

Read St. Louis Magazine’s Q&A with Reed.