By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City University Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature will welcome poet Nikky Finney for a series of virtual events this month. “Conversations with Poet Nikky Finney” will be held on Monday and Tuesday, April 6 and 7, with in-person and virtual workshop sessions.
A National Book Award winner, Finney will lead an online writing workshop from 7 – 8:30 p.m. for educators and local poets on April 6. Space is limited.
On April 7, an open-mic session will take place at 7 p.m., guest hosted by Poetic City.
From 8 – 9:15 p.m., Finney will host a webinar during which she will read her poems and conduct a live conversation with guest interviewer, writer and educator Clemonce Heard. His collection, “Tragic City,” from Anhinga Press, investigating the events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre will be released in October 2021.
The events are part of the 22nd Annual Thatcher Hoffman Smith Poetry series.
Finney is author of five books of poetry and is included in several anthologies of African American poetry. Her newest book is “Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry” (2020); preceded by “The World Is Round” (2013), winner of the Benjamin Franklin/Independent Book Sellers Award.
Other books by Finney include “Head Off & Split” (2011), which won the National Book Award and the NAACP Image award (among others); “Rice” (1995; 2013 reissue); and “On Wings Made of Gauze” (1985).
Finney was a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets collective for African American poets of the Appalachian region, won the PEN American Open Book Award in 1996 and the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for the Arts in South Carolina in 2016, was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the spring of 2020, and recently was appointed as a chancellor to The Academy of American Poets.
Born and raised in South Carolina, Finney comes from a Geechee cultural heritage. Her poems are filled with the culture’s relationship with the land and her own embodied experiences of holding a family’s and a people’s history. She is best known for her depictions of African American experience, which she describes as “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.”
According to her website, Finney’s poems explore topics such as the metaphors found in an heirloom tomato, the learning that comes from taking her grandmother shopping at the Salvation Army thrift store, the resonances that come from growing up among ancient oaks and the salty Atlantic waters, the lived experiences of elders and ancestors, and the realities of violence against young Black men in modern America.
In addition to writing poetry, Finney is author of one book of short stories for “new readers” titled “Heartwood” (1997) and edited the anthology “The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South” (2007) for the highly respected Cave Canem Foundation, which supports and promotes the work of African American poets.
She has taught at the Cave Canem workshop; as artist-in-residence at University of Kentucky, Berea College, and Smith College; and currently holds the endowed John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at University of South Carolina, where she teaches in both the English and African American Studies programs.
Her work is also represented in the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
The program at OCU was made possible by funding from the Thatcher Hoffman Smith Endowment Fund and by a grant from Oklahoma Humanities. Program partners include Poetic City, The Oklahoma Writing Project, The Oklahoma Arts Institute, and Full Circle Bookstore.
For more information, visit okcu.edu.