Poet Nikky Finney, who grew up in Sumter, awarded $50,000 Ford Foundation fellowship


Poet Nikky Finney has been awarded one of 25 new Art of Change fellowships from the Ford Foundation. According to a news release from the foundation, the $50,000 fellowship is intended to "support visionary artists and cultural leaders in creating powerful works of art that help advance freedom, justice and inclusion, and strengthen our democracy."

Finney's official biography from the Ford Foundation tells of the short story writer Toni Cade Bambara asking her in the 1980s, "What else can your words do besides adorn?" This set Finney off on "a writing life rooted in empathetic engagement and human reciprocity," the release reads.

Born in Conway, Finney grew up in Sumter during the civil rights movement, a daughter of former S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney Jr. and Frances Finney. The couple now lives in Columbia, where Nikky Finney holds the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters, with appointments in both the department of English language and literature, and the African-American studies program at the University of South Carolina.

Finney's recognitions and experience include the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, the PEN American Open Book Award and South Carolina's 2016 Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts. She is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets, editor of the Cave Canem anthology "Black Poets Lean South" and has published five volumes of poetry, including the National Book Award winner, "Head Off & Split." These works and others, in book and video formats, including her acceptance speech for the National Book Award, are on display at the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

John Lithgow, who hosted the 2011 National Book Awards, described Finney's acceptance speech as "the best ... ever - for anything."

The Ford Foundation's director of Creativity and Free Expression, Elizabeth Alexander, said, "Art is essential in a free and flourishing society. Artists are the visionaries who can shine light on complexity and possibility and inspire us to make those societies more just and more beautiful. This fellowship recognizes an extraordinarily diverse group of brilliant artists and innovators whose works embody social justice and enables them to come together and collaborate toward a more just and inclusive future."

For more information about the Ford Foundation's Art of Change fellowships, the 25 fellows and Nikky Finney, see http://bit.ly/2yTmVna.