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
April
 
 
 
1
LNFS Presents: Inherent Vice
Wildcat Wellness: Meditation
Successful Networking & Job Search
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Brazilian Conversation Hour
The Arboretum presents a Party for the Planet! Celebrate Kentucky's Past
Mr. PharmD Pageant 2015
Wed
2
LNFS Presents: Manakamana
LNFS Presents: Donnie Darko
National Student Exchange (NSE) Info Session
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Wildcat Wellness: Healthy Habits
SEC-ACC Virtual Career Fair
Massage on the Go #3
Thu
3
Cultural Coffee Hour
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Fri
4
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Sat
5
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Sun
6
Wildcat Wellness: Expressions (Creative Stress Relief)
Age Friendly Community Panel
Resumes & Cover Letters that Work
Mon
7
National Student Exchange (NSE) Info Session
Wildcat Wellness: Relaxation
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Tue
8
LNFS Presents: The Godfather
Wildcat Wellness: Meditation
Internship Info Session
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Brazilian Conversation Hour
UK Remembers
SpeakBlue: Richard Sherman
Wed
9
LNFS Presents: The Shawshank Redemption
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Wildcat Wellness: Healthy Habits
From Plows to Plates: A Journey Through Kentucky Foodways
Workshop on Publishing
Teached Documentary
Thu
10
LNFS Presents: Enemy
LNFS Presents: Seven Psychopaths
Cultural Coffee Hour
Last Day to Withdraw or Reduce Course Load
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Robert C. May Photography Endowment Lecture: Julian Cox
Fri
11
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
fab-ric-ate Exhibit
Sat
12
Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs
Edward Troye: Theme & Variation
Same Difference: Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh & Russell Maltz
Lexington Tattoo Project
Kentucky's Present - Learn about the Bluegrass region of the Walk Across Kentucky and about invasive plants that threaten Kentucky landscapes
Sun
13
Wildcat Wellness: Expressions (Creative Stress Relief)
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Get Your DIY On! Fix-It Station Demonstrations
Mon
14
Wildcat Wellness: Relaxation
Job Club - LinkedIn: Your Job Search Best Friend
Tie Dye Tuesday
#UK Kick Butts Day
Career & Major Exploration Session @ 1 p.m.
Career & Major Exploration Session @ 2 p.m.
Career & Major Exploration Session @ 3 p.m.
Take Back the Night Lexington
Tue
15
LNFS Presents: The Godfather: Part II
Wildcat Wellness: Meditation
Brazilian Conversation Hour
Career & Major Exploration Session @ 11 a.m.
Career & Major Exploration Session @ Noon
Career & Major Exploration Session @ 1 p.m.
Affrilachian Poets
Bike-In Movie: The Bicycle Thieves
Wed
16
LNFS Presents: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Wildcat Wellness: Healthy Habits
CANCELED: Bike-In Breakfast
Human Rights in China: a panel discussion
Thu
17
LNFS Presents: North by Northwest
LNFS Presents: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Cultural Coffee Hour
Car-Free Day
Performance Conference
Audience Appeals and Performing Assistance Conference
Holi: The Indian Festival of Colors
Fri
18
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Bully Breed Awareness Walk
Spring Carnival 2015
Taste of Africa
GAYla Drag Show and Silent Auction
Sat
19
 
Sun
20
Wildcat Wellness: Expressions (Creative Stress Relief)
Floral Sculpture
Pinterest Party #3
Mon
21
Wildcat Wellness: Relaxation
Student Center "Farewell" Informational Fair
Tour de Downtown Art
Tue
22
LNFS Presents: Birdman
Wildcat Wellness: Meditation
National Student Exchange (NSE) Info Session
Brazilian Conversation Hour
Healthy Smoothie Demonstration
Ping Pong Ball Drop
Shake the Stress Fest
Wed
23
LNFS Presents: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
LNFS Presents: The Avengers
Wildcat Wellness: Healthy Habits
Wildcat Wrap-Up
UK Elder Care Lunch & Learn
Kentucky's Future - Plant a Tree in the Pennyrile region of the Walk Across Kentucky
Thu
24
LNFS Presents: Batman
LNFS Presents: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Cultural Coffee Hour
Art in Bloom Weekend
Fri
25
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Network Publishing: Digital Writing in the Humanities
The Party for the Planet final event in April is Arbor Day at The Arboretum!
Art in Bloom Weekend
Art in Bloom Cocktail Party
Sat
26
Art in Bloom Weekend
Sun
27
Resumes & Cover Letters that Work
Wildcat Wellness: Expressions (Creative Stress Relief)
Fuel for Finals
UK Ag Equine Programs Distinguished Lecture Series
Mon
28
Wildcat Wellness: Relaxation
Job Club: How to Write the Perfect Resume and Cover Letter
How to Impress Your Boss: Employer Panel
Tue
29
Wildcat Wellness: Meditation
Internship Info Session
Brazilian Conversation Hour
Appalachian Research Day
Wed
30
Wildcat Wellness: Healthy Habits
Thu
 
 

Repeats every week until Thu Apr 30 2015 except Mon Mar 16 2015.
Mon, 04/20/2015

Mon, 04/20/2015

Tue, 04/21/2015

Repeats every week until Thu Apr 30 2015 except Tue Mar 17 2015.
Tue, 04/21/2015

Reset Page