to be in & of

2022 Palette Chapbook Prize Winner

Winner of the 2022 Palette Chapbook Prize

Read a digital copy of the chapbook for free here. 

Purchase a physical copy of to be in & of from Bookshop here. 

Learn more and watch the launch party recording here. 



Joshua Aiken is a Cave Canem Fellow, his poems have appeared in publications such as ApogeeBOAATCopper NickelMuzzle MagazineNepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of ColorPleiades: Literature in ContextThe Rumpus, and Sixth Finch. Joshua is currently a doctoral candidate at Yale University in African-American Studies, History, and Law and a Teaching Fellow with the Yale Prison Education Initiative. He received graduate degrees in History and Forced Migration Studies from the University of Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, and previously  worked as the Policy Fellow at the Prison Policy Initiative and Researcher-in-Residence for Artspace New Haven’s exhibition “Revolution on Trial.” 



Winner of the 2022 Palette Poetry Chapbook Prize, to be in & of is the debut chapbook of poet, anti-carceral advocate, and black studies scholar Joshua Aiken. Diving into the perils and contradictions of how Black life is grieved in America, Aiken presses on the narratives of what it means to mourn, inherit, and belong. A meditation on family, loneliness, depression, and survivor’s guilt, these poems break open new ways of living within loss and interrogating: “So who is this healing really for?”

With a sense of queer fury and alienation from the world as it is, to be in & of gives voice to speakers concerned with the “costs” of “getting better,” the meaning of freedom, and the politics of how we stay alive. In the words of Contest Judge Chen Chen, to be in & of is a “collection full of wondering and wonderment” and “a constellation of poems spilling over with the vast aches of a heart so attuned to life, loss, and more life.” With poems written after poets like Essex Hemphill and Richard Siken, and for figures like the Godfather of House Music Frankie Knuckles, Aiken’s language bubbles over with the prospect of more life: the uncertainty, the unpromised, the shadows and ghosts, and the fierce joys, pleasures, and spaces that remind one of all that’s left unexplored. This debut invites its reader to be thoroughly entangled with the dead and the living; to delight in the messy process of belonging and becoming, and to experience the beauty of worlds one might someday know.



“So who is this healing really for?” wonders one poem in this collection full of wondering and wonderment, this constellation of poems spilling over with the vast aches of a heart so attuned to life, loss, and more life. To step into the world of to be in & of is to understand the in’s and of’s that shape an ever-shifting Black queer existence and imagination-how a preposition can be a position, a perspective, a power: imposed or embraced, relived or revised. To step into the gorgeous, dizzying cosmos of this chapbook is to declare “we’re raunchy, we’re righteous,” to sing “we kissed, & for weeks nothing was my enemy,” and ultimately, to “invent a galaxy of sound.”

Chen Chen, Guest Judge for the 2022 Palette Poetry Chapbook Prize, author of Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency and When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

“to be in & of. To be verb & noun. To be object & subject. To be Black & blue. Joshua Aiken is contemplating & exploding all the dichotomies in this tight collection of poems, putting pressure on language like he means to turn each word into coal & then burn it all down. But don’t be deceived: there’s a phoenix rising from these ashes—& ready to fly”

Evie Shockley, author of Suddenly We

“What is there to say? These poems are excellent, lyrically athletic, brazenly honest, as sound as they are shattering. They move through you like winter wind, mark you like a cloudless summer day. As I read I found myself shouting or stunned silent after every poem. Joshua Aiken, how you see and feel the world in these poems, how you witness your life and life around you, is nothing short of genius. Reader, beware: here awaits a brutal and lush vision in which you too, naked and human, might also be glimpsed.”

Danez Smith, author of Homie