Erin Holaday

By

College: Arts and Sciences

UK Professor Nikky Finney Wins National Book Award for Poetry

Published: Nov 17, 2011

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 17, 2011) — University of Kentucky creative writing Professor  Nikky Finney has won the 2011 National Book Award in Poetry for her recent work, “Head Off & Split.”  Finney, UK's first National Book Award winner, attended the award ceremony last night in New York City, where she accepted the highly prestigious honor.  Click here to view video of her accepting the award.

 

“Head Off & Split” was published by Northwestern University Press in February of this year, and Finney has been touring with the book since late winter.

 

The renowned poet's acceptance speech traced the history of repressed literacy and creativity found throughout her South Carolina home, saying, "The ones who longed to read and write were forbidden…the king's mouth and queen's tongue arranged to perfection on the most beautiful paper…determined to control what can never be controlled: the will of the human heart to speak its own mind."

 

In addition to honoring her teachers, mentors and Northwestern University Press, Finney spoke of her mother, Frances Davenport Finney, an elementary school teacher and Newberry, S.C. native who "made Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays out of foil, lace, cardboard and paper-mache, insisting beauty into our deeply segregated southern days" and her father, Ernest A. Finney Jr., civil rights attorney and retired South Carolina chief justice and "chief opponent of the death penalty in South Carolina for 50 years."

 

Finney ended her speech, which host John Lithgow called "the best acceptance speech for anything I'd ever heard," with a quote from Reverend Dr. Katie Cannon, the Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary/Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Va., and the first African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1974.

 

"What I heard you [Cannon] say once haunts every poem that I write," Finney said. "Black people, you said, were the only people in the U.S. ever explicitly forbidden to become literate. I am now officially speechless."

 

The National Book Award website says the poems in Finney's "Head Off & Split" "sustain a sensitive and intense dialogue with emblematic figures and events in African-American life: from Civil Rights matriarch Rosa Parks, to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, from a brazen girl strung out on lightning, to a terrified woman abandoned on a rooftop during Hurricane Katrina. Her poet's voice is defined by an intimacy, which holds a soft yet exacting-eye on the erotic, on uncanny political and family events ... Artful and intense, Finney's poems ask us to be mindful of what we fraction, fragment, cut off, dice, dishonor, or throw away, powerfully evoking both the lawless and the sublime."

 

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto also notes the power of Finney's work:  “Speaking of Nikky Finney, the author Walter Mosely wrote that ‘Poetry contains the magic of language, the ache of truth, and the possibility of entering a world where the rules play hide and seek with your sense of being. A poem, when it works, is a rolling realization of ideas and emotions that bring you somewhere you've never been with a sense of familiarity that opens up a whole new world right there in your mind.’ That so aptly describes Nikky Finney both as a poet and as a teacher. Her poems, carefully and finely honed words and passages strung together like beautiful pearls, combine common experiences, searing emotions and sometimes uncomfortable history to speak truth in uncommonly beautiful and resonant ways. Today, what students and her colleagues at UK have known for years, a nation now understands – the treasure that is Nikky Finney and her poetry, which reaches and touches us all.”

  

In an interview on the National Bood Award website Finney explains what she hopes readers take from her latest book of poetry.  "From this particular collection, I am hoping that the reader realizes we are standing at an incredible moment in time — a moment when so much of what we do and don't do matters," Finney said. "I believe more and more our beautiful language is being hi-jacked by those who care nothing about language, those who care only about winning and acquiring and stockpiling and protecting their own interests ... I believe our many beautiful ways of saying and communicating and the telling of our stories has been taken for granted and we can't let that happen. All of us who make something with our hands and hearts must step into every arena that we possibly can and bring with us the most eloquent, charged, radical (radical only means grabbing it by the root), tender, truthful words spilling from our arms. Our children deserve this from us."

 

To view YouTube video of Finney reading a poem from her book, click here.  Finney was recently interviewed for WUKY's weekly program "UK Perspectives."  You can hear the podcast of the interview here.

 

Finney, a Lexington resident, has taught at UK for decades and is a member of the Affrilachian Poets group that includes Frank X Walker and Kelly Norman Ellis.

 

When Finney was named a finalist for the National Book Award in October, Mark Lawrence Kornbluh, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, noted Finney's contribution to UK's English department. "She is an asset to the university and has been a first-rate teacher and scholar throughout her career," Kornbluh said. "Her work is an exceptional source of inspiration for the community and will undoubtedly continue to inspire future generations."

 

The National Book Awards began in 1950, and for 61 years, a committee of writers has convened annually to judge the work of other writers and to recognize literary excellence.  National Book Awards are conferred in four genres: fiction, nonfiction, children's literature and poetry. Five finalists are named in each genre. For a list of all winners, visit the National Book Award website at http://www.nationalbook.org/.

 

Finney is the author of three previous volumes of poetry, "The World Is Round" (winner of the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry); "Rice" (winner of a PEN America Open Book Award in 1995); and "On Wings Made of Gauze" (1985). Recipient of the Kentucky Foundation for Women Artists Fellowship Award, Finney is also the author of "Heartwood," a collection of stories, and she edited "The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South."

 

 

MEDIA CONTACT:  Erin Holaday Ziegler, (859) 257-5365 or erin.holaday@uky.edu

finney_0.jpg
September
 
 
1
Last Day to Add a Class
Last Day to Receive 80% Refund
Suicide Prevention: Raising Awareness & Sharing Our Stories
Welcome Coffee
Game Show
Tue
2
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Wed
3
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Rosemary's Baby
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Pitch Perfect 2
Adjusting to College
Adjusting to College
Kickoff Football Season Grill Out
Thu
4
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Akira
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Whiplash
To Live in the Borderlands: A Household Perspective on Frontier Politics from the Middle Jequetepeque Valley, Peru
Fri
5
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Go Swing Dancing!
Sat
6
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Sun
7
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Labor Day
Mon
8
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Wildcat Wellness Relaxation
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Ivory Tower
Tue
9
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Wed
10
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Selena
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Jurassic World
Adjusting to College
Terrace Time Out
Thu
11
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
The Late Night Film Series Presents - The Great Beauty
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Predator
Friday Swing Dance Lessons - Free!
Friday Swing Dance Lessons - Free!
Accounting Internship & Career Fair
Fri
12
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Sculptors On Paper
Swing Dance Lessons - Free
Sat
13
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Sun
14
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Kentucky Law Schools Forum
Outdoor Installation
Wildcat Wellness Expressions - Superhero
Mon
15
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Outdoor Installation
Wildcat Wellness Relaxation
Women's Forum Board Meeting
Southern Sirens Concert
Tue
16
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Outdoor Installation
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Last Day to Drop a Course Without Appearing on Transcript
Wed
17
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Outdoor Installation
Adjusting to College
Freedom of Speech for Higher Education Faculty
Interactive Issues Graffiti Wall for Constitution Day: "What Civic Issues are Most Important to You?"
Voter Registration and Information on Student Civic Engagement
Citizen Kentucky Project for Constitution Day 2015
Advocacy through Digital Citizenship
"Picking Cotton" in Context: A Discussion on Issues from the Common Reading Experience book
The Power of Symbols: Confederate Imagery in the Public Space
Thu
18
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Essay Contest for Constitution Day 2015
Outdoor Installation
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Dark Girls
The Late Night Film Series Presents - The Pokémon Movie
LexPhil Pre-Concert Buffet
Curator Tour with Stuart Horodner
Fri
19
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Swing Dance Lessons - Free
Sat
20
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
LexHop
Sun
21
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wildcat Wellness Expressions - Finger Painting
Mon
22
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wildcat Wellness Relaxation
Tue
23
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Last Day to Receive 50% Refund
Thank-A-Donor Day
2 Day Business Internship & Career Fair
Pinterest Party I
Wed
24
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
2 Day Business Internship & Career Fair
Wildcat Wellness - Yoga for Relaxation
Wildcat Wellness - Yoga for Relaxation
Wildcat Wellness - Yoga for Relaxation
Wildcat Wellness - Yoga for Relaxation
Wildcat Wellness - Yoga for Relaxation
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Wild Tales
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Mad Max: Fury Road
Adjusting to College
Thu
25
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
The Late Night Film Series Presents - All.I.Can
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Nightcrawler
Fri
26
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Paint the Town Blue/Banner Competition
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Swing Dance Lessons - Free
Swing Dance Lessons - Free
Arts Writing Workshop
Sat
27
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Paint the Town Blue/Banner Competition
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Sun
28
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Paint the Town Blue/Banner Competition
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wildcat Wellness Expressions - Mandala
Mon
29
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wildcat Wellness Relaxation
Wildcat Wellness Relaxation
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Kitty Karnival
Tue
30
Bottoms Up: A Sculpture Survey
Nina Katchadourian: Collection Interventions
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wayne Koestenbaum: Unfamiliar Grammar
Wed
 
 
 

Repeats every week until Fri Sep 11 2015 .
Fri, 09/04/2015

Repeats every week until Sat Nov 21 2015 .
Sat, 09/05/2015

Reset Page