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
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.
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."
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
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
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
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