Conversations with Poet Nikky Finney

“’So—you can write pretty,’ Toni Cade Bambara tells the twenty-one-year-old Nikky Finney during a monthly writing circle that Bambara held in her Atlanta home during the 1980s. ‘But what else can your words do besides adorn?’ This flat-footed question, put to the young poet by the great short story writer, at the beginning of her career, sets her sailing toward a life of aiming her words to do more than pearl and decorate the page. She follows the path, beyond adornment, that Bambara lived and taught—a writing life rooted in empathetic engagement and human reciprocity.”

She is best known for her depictions of African American experience, "the graciousness of Black family perseverance, the truth of history, the grace and necessity of memory, as well as the titanic loss of habitat for all things precious and wild." Finney was a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets collective for African American poets of the Appalachian region, won the PEN American Open Book Award in 1996, the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts in South Carolina in 2016, and was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the spring of 2020, and was recently appointed a Chancellor to The Academy of American Poets.

Finney has taught as artist-in-residence at University of Kentucky, Berea College, and Smith College, and currently holds the endowed John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at University of South Carolina. Her work is also represented in the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington D.C.