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Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney was born in Conway, South Carolina, on the coast where rice fields were more prominent than cotton fields, in 1957.  This geographic landscape is reflected in Finney's poetry, especially her most recent collection, Rice (1995). After attaining a degree from Talladega College, Finney began teaching and writing in California, but moved back to the south, where she is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky. She has published one other collection, On Wings Made of Gauze (1985), and she wrote the script for the 1995 PBS documentary For Posterity's Sake: The Story of Morgan and Marvin Smith, chronicling the African-American twins from Lexington who became noted photographers in New York in the 1930s and 1940s. Finney is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a collective of Appalachian writers of African descent.

Her mother was an elementary school teacher, and her father was a civil rights lawyer. Both were deeply involved in the `60s movement for equality and justice for African Americans. Finney says that her daily acquaintances with her parents' battles for dignity are the soul of her writings.

"I love words passionately ... embrace my womanness wholly ... and my blackness tenaciously. Period," she says. Her strong love of her culture and womanhood is seen clearly in her poems. In Rice, she writes, "... I accept the overflow that accompany these lumberjack breasts/ I'm taking whatever's mine/ you don't have to hold it out/ just to keep me from being called a name/ I am a name."

The author of two poetry books, On Wings Made of Gauze (1985) and Rice (1995), Finney was awarded the Pen American Open Book Award for Rice in 1999. It tells of her growing up as an African American in Conway, S.C., where rice was the state’s largest antebellum export.

For many poets, words aren't just ways of expression, but living emotions that show who we are. Finney's book of poems, Rice, celebrates and affirms African American tradition, culture and womanhood.

She is the author of Heartwood (1998), a collection of short stories written especially for literacy students. Two new books are currently in the works, “The World is Round,” a poetry collection, and “Frogmarch,” her first novel.

Finney has also been published in the anthologies In Search of Color Everywhere (1994), I Hear a Symphony (1994), Spirit and Flame (1996), and Bloodroot (1998). Her creative words can also be found in the liner notes of folk/rock musician Toshi Reagon's 1997 CD Kindness and as an introduction to photographer Bill Gaskins' 1997 collection Good and Bad Hair.

Finney is a frequent guest speaker at schools, as well as at such places as the Art Institute of Chicago, the International Black Women’s Film Festival and the National Book Award & Quarterly Book Review.

A member of the University of Kentucky faculty since 1991, Finney is associate professor of creative writing. During the 1999-2000 academic year, she was the Goode Humanities Professor at Berea College. She is a founding member of The Affrilachian Poets, a writing collective in Lexington.

Finney earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Talladega College in Alabama and a master’s degree in African American Studies from Atlanta University.

Rice. Toronto : Sister Vision, 1995. "Feeds readers who are hungry for the deep love and lyricism that imbues Black life. Nikky Finney is a writer who carries the traditions of her ancestors with the exquisite care they deserve." -Evelyn C. White

History of the Affrilachian Poets

In the fall of 1991, The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky sponsored a gala kick-off of its National Writer's Series by celebrating "Southern Writing" at the old prestigious Lexington Opera House. Invited authors for the occasion were three native Kentucky writers: James Still, Windell Berry and Bobbi Ann Mason. The fourth writer, the only African American and the only non-Kentuckian was Nikky Finney, a South Carolinian and visiting writer at the University of Kentucky. In that audience, listening, watching and feeling very loudly the special evening unfold, sat Frank X. Walker.

A close friend and collaborator of Finney's, a community organizer, a lover of literature, a sculptor and a poet in his own right, Walker was quickly loaded with a series of questions and realities. Whomever had chosen these writers had obviously not thought or known that there were any native African American Kentuckians whose works were deemed worthy of such fine literary company. Walker, a Danville native, began to wrestle with the question, "What was the face of Appalachia?"

There were no publications in Kentucky that had as yet cited his work or the writing of dozens of other native Black Kentuckians that he knew. Walker realized, out of much frustration, that there was no proper working medium for the ancient voices of Africans in Appalachia.

Out of that frustration, Walker looked up the word "Appalachian" in the dictionary. What he found shook him to the very soles of his feet. It read, "white residents of mountainous regions." He knew then, in the eyes of the world, he would have to rename himself and offer up that name to his community, if ever their voices were to be heard. Combining "Africa," the continent and the birthplace of his race and culture, "Appalachian," the birth spot of his family, the term "Affrilachian" was born. From that one word and those many desires to write and express the feelings of a proud prominent community, in the spring of 1992, the Affrilachian Poets stepped forward.

The Affrilachian Poets. They are sometimes in love, sometimes terrified, all the time searching for a wise and progressive path through this forest called life. The Affrilachian Poets. They are the coal black African voices of Appalachia. Their sound, their passion, their tenderness, their truth can never again be omitted from the full Appalachian chorus that rings out through the hills and valleys of the bluegrass.  -Nikky Finney

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Purchase Coal Black Voices

Coal Black Voices was produced with support from the KET Fund for Independent Production, The Wexner Center Media Arts Program, The Ohio State University, Kentucky Arts Council, Ohio Arts Council, Kentucky Humanities Council, Ohio Humanities Council and Media Working Group.

Color/ 56:45 mins
Media Working Group

@Jean Donohue, Fred Johnson and Frank X Walker, 2001




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Nikky Finny "we have been oppressed, we have been repressed, we have never been suppressed."


by Nikky Finney

Beneath our hard exteriors is our heartwood, our true nature. In this touching novel, two young women, Trina Sims and Jenny Bryan, discover how much they are alike despite their different skin colors.

Interview With
Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney

RealVideo® clip—Finney reads one of her poems on an episode of KET’s In Performance at the Governor’s Mansion taped in spring 1999 (7:20). [help with RealPlayer]

Nikky Finney

More On Nikky Finney ©2001

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