When I Waked, I Cried To Dream Again

W. W. Norton & Company

"In this book, A. Van Jordan brings us what might be his most ambitious collection to date. Part-poetry, part-drama, part-interview, this is a book that defies easy categorization and yet uses that genrelessness to get to the heart of the American tradition of state violence against Black people. The book draws on a wide set of influences including Langston Hughes, Aimé Césaire, and William Shakespeare to build one of the most thoughtful poetic investigations of race and racism I have ever read. Jordan is one of the most masterful poets working today. This book is beautiful, affecting, and important." —Nate Marshall, author of Finna


A dynamic, moving hybrid work that celebrates Black youth, often too fleeting, and examines Black lives lost to police violence. 

In this astonishing volume of poems and lyric prose, Whiting Award–winner A. Van Jordan draws comparisons to Black characters in Shakespearean plays—Caliban and Sycorax from The Tempest, Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus, and the eponymous antihero of Othello—to mourn the deaths of Black people, particularly Black children, at the hands of police officers. What do these characters, and the ways they are defined by the white figures who surround them, have in common with Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and other Black people killed in the twenty-first century?

Balancing anger and grief with celebration, Jordan employs an elastic variety of poetic forms, including ekphrastic sestinas inspired by the photography of Malick Sidibé, fictional dialogues, and his signature definition poems that break down the insidious power of words like “fair,” “suspect,” and “juvenile.” He invents a new form of window poems, based on a characterization exercise, to see Shakespeare’s Black characters in three dimensions, and finds contemporary parallels in the way these characters are othered, rendered at once undesirable and hypersexualized, a threat and a joke.

At once a stunning inquiry into the roots of racist violence and a moving recognition of the joy of Black youth before the world takes hold, When I Waked, I Cried to Dream Again expresses the preciousness and precarity of life.