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OCU hosts prominent Black poet for annual series

Nikky Finney

Oklahoma City University will host a series of events titled “Conversations with Poet Nikky Finney” April 6 and 7, with in-person and virtual workshop sessions. The events are part of the annual Thatcher Hoffman Smith Poetry series.

A writing workshop for educators and local poets led by Finney - a National Book Award winner - will be at 7 p.m. April 6. Pre-registration is required at www.okcu.edu/film-lit.

There will be an open-mic session at 7 p.m. and a webinar featuring Finney at 8 p.m. April 7. Registration is available online. The webinar will feature poetry readings and the poet in conversation with writer and educator Clemonce Heard.

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; “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 strong Geechee cultural heritage. Her poems are infused 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.” Her poems explore such varying topics 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, she 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.

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