Books for changing the world
Build Yourself a Boat

2019 National Book Award Longlist

“With Build Yourself a Boat, Camonghne Felix heralds a thrillingly new form of storytelling.”
—Morgan Parker, author of Magical Negro

This is about what grows through the wreckage. This is an anthem of survival and a look at what might come after. A view of what floats and what, ultimately, sustains.

Build Yourself a Boat redefines the language of collective and individual trauma through lyric and memory.

  • “With Build Yourself a Boat, Camonghne Felix heralds a thrillingly new form of storytelling, as much investigation as it is song, as broken as it is doused in genuine strength. These poems are packed with embodiments—not depictions—of Black female pain, empowerment, memory, and discovery. This is a fantastically tender book, generous in its precision and thoughtful in its experimentation. This debut does not come quietly or shyly—Felix is an applaudable master of language, inventively carving and pulling at words and sounds to assemble the parts of this story. Here is a voice that commands, insists, reiterates, and consumes—a voice that has earned its right to shout freely, with curiosity and aliveness and heart.”
    —Morgan Parker, author of Magical Negro

    “Camonghne Felix’s debut poetry collection, Build Yourself a Boat, is about the trauma and pain of black womanhood. Felix explores what it means, politically to be a black woman in a world of Trump and personally, exploring the ways heartbreak and other points of pain change a person and their body. Build Yourself a Boat was exactly what I needed to read, and revisit, this season as men decided what women should do with their bodies and as I learned to manage heartbreak.”
    —Arriel Vinson, Electric Literature

    “Centering on black, female identity, Camonghne Felix's Build Yourself a Boat is an exquisite and thoughtful collection that should be on everyone's TBR.”

    “Camonghne Felix uses profound language to explore the policing of the Black body, and Build Yourself a Boat bridges the gap between artistry and the world of politics, connecting Black womanhood and Felix’s coming of age in New York City.”

    “These poems occupy space on the page, but also claim access for a voice.”
    —Tara Betts, Newcity

    “Every few seasons, we get a piece of art that sees us whole, that knows the smell of our hiding places, that will never let us hear it or ourselves the same again. Build Yourself a Boat is one of the most soulful, genius pieces of art that has ever seen, felt and heard me. I tried to run away from these poems. They welcomed, understood and side-eyed my fear. I look forward to bringing this book into all my classes, my relationships and sacred rooms for the rest of my life. It's really that good.”
    —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

    “Camonghne Felix is a brilliant writer, thinker, imaginer, builder—a young leader who shifts and opens the possibilities for a more just, better lit world, with each step, each word, each question.”
    —Kathy Engel

    “Where is the room for Black folks to be in their bodies? Framed here in this book, between a slip of ‘Weary’ and ‘DISCLAIMER,’ is a theory. [Felix’s] footnotes articulate spaces in which we might sink or swim, or skate. She declares, ‘you can’t un-see me,’ skewering American political nostalgia—liberal and conservative. As I type this, I right click and choose ‘Add to Dictionary’ in order to erase the red wave under her name that signifies a mistake to be addressed. I choose to include her in my lexicon ‘because we’re looking at a critical fault otherwise.’ Who else could possibly do this impossible work justice?”
    —Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, author of Open Interval

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