2016 National Book Award Longlist, Poetry

Donika Kelly

Bestiary Donika Kelly
(Graywolf Press)
ISBN: 978-1555977580

National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for?
Donika Kelly: I dedicated Bestiary to the women who helped save my life again and again: the five therapists I’ve seen since I was 18 years old. To put it bluntly, I would not have survived to write this book without them.
Bestiary extends to readers who have experienced depression and anxiety, sexual trauma, and/or familial loss an offering and, hopefully, a resonance. The offering is a gesture of vulnerability, a way of saying to readers, here are the issues I’ve wrestled with and will continue to engage, does this make sense to you? The hope is that the articulation of this question across the landscape of the book will resonate with other folks’ experiences.


Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters--half human and half something else. Donika Kelly's Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures--from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from "Out West" to "Back East." Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Bestiary questions what makes us human, what makes us whole.

About the Author

Donika Kelly’s poems have appeared in various journals including West Branch, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Tupelo Quarterly. Bestiary is Kelly’s first collection of poetry and was selected by Nikky Finney for the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize


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