Nikky Finney, the 2011 National Book Award winner for poetry, tells a full-house audience that her grandmother’s words have always guided her work as a poet: “To tell a lie is a sin of the highest order.” She gives extensive, fascinating introductions for each of her long-form narrative poems before performing them. Her subjects include family ties, the writing life, oppression, maternity, solidarity, class disparity, and the plight of Black women in America. Both her poems and her commentaries about them are powerful and moving.
Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina, within listening distance of the sea. A child of activists, she came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Arts movements. At Talladega College, nurtured by Hale Woodruff’s Amistad murals, Finney began to understand the powerful synergy between art and history. Finney has authored four books of poetry: “On Wings Made of Gauze” (1985), Rice (1995), “The World Is Round” (2003), and “Head Off & Split” (2011). The John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Southern Letters and Literature at the University of South Carolina, Finney also authored the fiction work “Heartwood” (1997), edited “The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South” (2007), and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets. Finney’s fourth book of poetry, “Head Off & Split”, was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for poetry.