Nikky Finney, the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, will receive the 2022 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature from the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Professor Finney will be honored at a ceremony in Macon in April.
“Nikky Finney writes powerfully and rhapsodically about the experiences, memories, families, and communities of Black people living in the U.S. South,” said Davis A. Davis, associate director of the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies. “Her poems explore the beauty and the sorrow found in experiences and objects, and they celebrate the stories of people who have survived and achieved.”
An accomplished poet and author, Professor Finney said that “words come and go. But the word that remains the great shark in the Atlantic Ocean, that is my life, is the word ‘Southerner.’ This word that fits and begins me, that also knows how to camouflage, deep dive and create its own myth, while also possessing the right historical teeth for the futuristic job of writing. I read southern writers as a girl poet. They became the nexus of humanity for me. I learned the true altitude of southern worlds from Ernest Gaines and Yusef Komunyakaa then took off on my own trail. To be invited to stand with these former Thomas Robinson honorees, as well as all the others of the past 10 years, those who have engaged and wrestled with this complicated land, sea, and air is truly an extraordinary moment in my life.”
Professor Finney, who holds appointments in the department of English language and literature and African American studies, has taught at the University of Kentucky for 23 years. Professor Finney’s collection of poetry, Head Off and Split, was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award. Her latest published collection of poems is Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2020).
Professor Finney is a graduate of Talladega College and studied African American literature at Atlanta University.