Nikky Finney

Celebrated poet Nikky Finney was born in Conway, South Carolina, the daughter of an attorney and teacher, both civil rights activists. Ms. Finney’s fourth book of poetry, Head Off & Split, was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for poetry.

An alumna of Talladega College and Atlanta University, Ms. Finney is the Guy Davenport Endowed Professor in English and Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky. Ms. Finney is also on the faculty at Cave Canem, the prestigious Black Poetry organization founded in 1996 and located in New York City, and a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, “the coal black African voices of Appalacia,” as she says. During the academic year 2007-2008, Ms. Finney was Grace Hazard Conkling Writer-in-Residence at Smith.

Ms Finney’s poems have been described as powerful and warm, like her southern roots, and provide glimpses into the human adventures of birth, death, family, violence, sexuality, and relationship, exploring the soul of human community. Novelist Walter Mosely said of Ms. Finney’s work, “She has flung me into an afterbirth of stars and made my stiff bones as loose as jelly.”

Ms. Finney has authored four books of poetry: Head Off & Split (2011); The World Is Round (2003); Rice (1995); and On Wings Made of Gauze (1985). She has also authored the collection of stories, Heartwood (1997) and edited The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (2007).

Exploring characters as diverse as Jacques Cousteau and Saartjie Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus), young women defined by violence and old women killing time in a thrift store, Ms. Finney “takes a leapfrog hop of the extraordinary over the commonplace,” writes Black Issues Book Review, as in the poem “Coda,” which examines the intimate landscape of her close-knit family.

Caribbean poet Lorna Goodison wrote of Ms. Finney, “(She) calls us to consider and value again the blessings found in community, the strong bonds of family and the transcendent and inexplicable ways of the spirit.”