State Poet Laureate

In 1931, Alabama established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Ashley M. Jones, who was appointed in 2021. Jones' most recent collection is Reparations Now! (Hub City Press, 2021).

recent & featured listings

Alabama poet laureaute
Ashley M. Jones

Ashley M. Jones was born on August 13, 1990, in Birmingham, Alabama. After completing the creative writing program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, she received a BA in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, where she was a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellow.

Jones is the author of REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press, 2021), which was longlisted for the PEN/Voelker Award for Poetry; dark//thing (Pleaides Press, 2019), winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize; and Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press, 2017), which won the silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Poetry.

Jones has received fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the Alabama Library Association. Jones was also the winner of the 2018 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize from Backbone Press and the 2019 Lucille Clifton Legacy Award from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Jones has edited at PANK and POETRY. 

Of her work, Sonia Sanchez writes, “Sister Ashley’s words continue us on the holy meditation begun in the 1960s about what it means to be human, and I say amen. Awoman. Amen. Awoman. Amen. A womannnnnnnnnnnn.

In 2021, Jones was commissioned as poet laureate of Alabama. She is the first person of color and the youngest person ever to hold the position. Jones currently lives in Birmingham, where she is founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival, a board member of the Alabama Writers Cooperative, Alabama Writers’ Forum, InToto Creative Arts Forum, and Kids in Birmingham 1963. She co-directs PEN Birmingham, and she is a faculty member in the creative writing department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Jones is also a core faculty member in Converse University’s low-residency MFA program. In 2022, Jones received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.

Ashley M. Jones

Related Poets

Related Poems


When the Famous Black Poet speaks,
I understand

that his is the same unnervingly slow 
rambling method of getting from A to B
that I hated in my father,
my father who always told me
don't shuffle.

The Famous Black Poet is
speaking of the dark river in the mind
that runs thick with the heroes of color,
Jackie R., Bessie, Billie, Mr. Paige, anyone
who knew how to sing or when to run. 
I think of my grandmother, said
to have dropped dead from the evil eye,
of my lesbian aunt who saw cancer and
a generally difficult future headed her way
in the still water
of her brother's commode.
I think of voodoo in the bottoms of soup-cans,
and I want to tell the poet that the blues
is not my name, that Alabama
is something I cannot use
in my business.

He is so like my father,
I don't ask the Famous Black Poet,
to remove his shoes,
knowing the inexplicable black
and pink I will find there, a cut 
gone wrong in five places.
I don't ask him to remove
his pants, since that too
is known, what has never known
a blade, all the spaces between,
where we differ .  .  .

I have spent years tugging
between my legs,
and proved nothing, really.
I wake to the sheets I kicked aside,
and examine where they've failed to mend
their own creases, resembling some silken
obstruction, something pulled
from my father's chest, a bad heart,
a lung,

the lung of the Famous Black Poet
saying nothing I want to understand. 

American History

Those four black girls blown up
in that Alabama church
remind me of five hundred
middle passage blacks,
in a net, under water
in Charleston harbor
so redcoats wouldn't find them.
Can't find what you can't see
can you?

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She'd be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.

My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother's
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God's boy would giggle and consider.

Daddy didn't want me to be anybody's surefire factory,
nobody's callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That's it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.