Nikky Finney was born in Conway, South Carolina and raised in Sumter. She left South Carolina after high school with her eyes and heart set on becoming a writer. After living and studying primarily in the south, Talladega College in Alabama and Atlanta University in Georgia, she moved to Oakland, California for several years but was invited in the early 1990’s to teach at the University of Kentucky. For 21 years she taught poetry and fiction in Lexington. In 2013 she became Professor Emeritus at the University of Kentucky and accepted the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina.
She edited Black Poets Lean South, a Cave Canem anthology (2007) authored On Wings Made of Gauze (1985), Rice (1995), Heartwood (1997), The World Is Round (2003), Head Off & Split, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry, and Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (2020). Her National Book Award acceptance speech has become a thing of legend, described by the 2011 NBA host, John Lithgow, as “the best acceptance speech ever–for anything.” In her home state of South Carolina she involves herself in the day-to-day battles for truth and justice while also guiding both undergraduates and MFA students at the University of South Carolina.
Finney is the recipient of the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry from the University of the South and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. Nikky Finney’s work, in book form and video, including her now legendary acceptance speech, is on display in the inaugural exhibition of the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. You will find her in the poet’s corner, directly across from Chuck Berry’s 1973 candy apple red Cadillac Eldorado.
Finney’s work includes the arenas of Black girl genius unrecognized, Black history misplaced and forgotten, and the stories of women who prefer to jump instead of ride the traditional tracks of polite and acceptable society. In her full body of poetry and storytelling, she explores the whispers and shouts of sexuality, the invisibility of poverty in a world continually smitten by the rich and the powerful, the graciousness of Black family perseverance, the truth of history, the grace and necessity of memory, as well as the titanic loss of habitat for all things precious and wild.