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Donika Kelly



Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations (Graywolf), winner of the Anisfield-Wolf book award in poetry, and Bestiary (Graywolf), the winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Kelly’s poetry has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Publishing Triangle Awards, the Lambda Literary Awards, and longlisted for the National Book Award.  A Cave Canem graduate fellow and member of the collective Poets at the End of the World, she has received an NEA fellowship, a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a summer workshop fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center. She earned an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University. Her poems have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Donika lives in Iowa City with her wife, the nonfiction writer Melissa Febos, and is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Iowa, where she teaches creative writing.

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The Renunciations


"This is poetry of the highest order."— Rita Dove

“[The Renunciations] is a lionhearted odyssey through the self, a casting aside of old mythologies and traumas in search of new stories fashioned from love and joy. . . . Like some sort of oracle, Kelly offers us the words to create our own destinies.”—

“The journey we take in The Renunciations is nothing short of rescue mission. And who else but Donika Kelly could offer such a lucid guide to the central figure of this book, as she navigates her most difficult years. . . . The poems are startling, disturbing, and relentlessly bold. I can’t imagine a time before having The Renunciations as a part of my emotional ecosystem and poetic landscape. Thank you, Donika, is what I really want to say.”—francine j. harris

“With Donika Kelly’s signature stinging beauty, The Renunciations names acts of wounding and making, refuses to separate elemental memory from the language of human remembrance. . . . Kelly’s poems gather us from cliff edge to river fold, from terror to more terror, from what cannot be known to what intuition and mirrors can divine.”—Khadijah Queen

“In The Renunciations, her vital new poetry collection, Donika Kelly harnesses ‘the air, the earth, and flame’ to renounce the old gods: child abuse, violence, racial injustice, generational trauma. . . . The Renunciations is a work of stunning power, alive with haunting images, complex metaphor. And while Kelly looks unsparingly at pain and suffering—her own and others’—with transformation comes joy.”—Ellen Bass

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“Striking. . . . Kelly is a descendant of Sylvia Plath by way of the wintry Louise Glück ― her poems are animated by roiling, mostlydark emotion, but they’re spare, composed and often quite short. . . . The fantastical creatures in Bestiary are almost all hybrids― mermaids, minotaurs, griffins ― as opposed to mere monsters, and their in-betweenness calls attention equally to the danger ofdissolution and the possibility of unity. Kelly is drawn to both outcomes, and her uncertainty gives her writing its peculiar magnetism.”―The New York Times Book Review

“[An] astounding debut. . . . The poems employ language that sinks its teeth in at vulnerable moments. . . . Kelly’s creatures howl and whimper as she imparts emotional truths.”―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Magic possesses this book, the kind that transforms objects and ideas and the knowledge we thought we knew, so thoroughly that Kelly seems to speak a new language.”―Ploughshares

“Spend only a minute or two in Donika Kelly’s poetry, and you’ll almost begin to feel your body moving along with the rhythm of her writing. Her lines pound, and declare, and expose and challenge ― and often explore the gendered experiences of our world.”―Bustle

“Kelly’s rich, devastating, interior landscapes map the reader across a persona’s mutation through emotional stages. . . . In Bestiary memory has legs, wings and fins, and cannot be drowned.”―The Wilds

“What a gorgeous book of poems. The love poems, in particular, are striking with unexpected ideas and imagery coalescing into poetry about this thing called love. . . . This one, I savored.”―Roxane Gay, Goodreads

“Bestiary is an act of transformation. . . . But it is a true act, also, because it acknowledges that a human will hide to be seen, and look back. These poems―among the best being written by any young poet in America―look back.”―Shane McCrae

“Donika Kelly whistles and crows her book into a psalm of pure resolve. And in the end, no mythology remains. Everything is singed and true. . . . Bestiary’s lesson is complicated and also simple. Love can be hunted down.”―Nikky Finney, from her introduction

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November 13: Syracuse University​

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For booking inquiries, contact Donika Kelly at donikakelly [at]

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