The Gwendolyn Brooks Conference for Black Literature and Creative Writing welcomes the Affrilachian Poets to Chicago State University!
The Affrilachian Poets are an ensemble of African-American writers who challenge simple notions of an all white Appalachian region and culture while drawing on traditions such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and experiences of the African Diaspora. The poetry of the Affrilachian Poets celebrates this complex African American heritage through food, music, and land. The Affrilachian Poets were founded by Frank X Walker, Nikky Finney, and Ricardo Nazario y Colon in 1991 at the University of Kentucky. Founding members also include Crystal Wilkinson, Kelly Norman Ellis, and Mitchell L.H. Douglass. Chicago State alumni Randall Horton and Parneshia Jones are members of this ensemble now celebrating its 20th anniversary. PBS produced a feature-length documentary about the Affrilachian Poets in 2000, and the group has been featured in numerous magazines and journals. Their work inspired the creation of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, published by the University of Kentucky
Poet Nikky Finney headlines the Gwendolyn Brooks Spotlight Reading
Nikky Finney was born at the rim of the Atlantic Ocean, in South Carolina, in 1957. The daughter of activists and educators, she began writing in the midst of the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements. With these instrumental eras circling her, Finney’s work provides first-person literary accounts to some of the most important events in American history. Educated at Talladega and Atlanta University, Finney cultivated her craft under the direction of African American scholars such as Gloria Wade Gales and chance encounters with the likes of Nikki Giovanni, who took an interest in Finney’s work and became an ever-present mentor. Finney credits the words of Gwendolyn Brooks as well as Walt Whitman and the surroundings of Talladega’s famous Amistad murals, painted by world-renowned Hale Woodruff, to her beginnings as a writer.
After her formal education, Finney spent several years working and studying with writers like Toni Cade Bambara who formed the Pamoja writing group in Atlanta before immersing herself as an educator, activist and artist in the progressive San Francisco artist movement in the mid-eighties. In 1985, and at the age of 26, Finney’s debut collection of poetry,On Wings Made of Guaze, was published by William Morrow (a division of HaperCollins). Finney’s next full-length collection of poetry and portraits,RICE(Sister Vision Press, 1995), was awarded the PEN America-Open Book Award, which was followed by a collection of short stories entitledHeartwood(University Press of Kentucky, 1998). Her next full-length poetry collection,The World Is Round(Inner Light Books, 2003) was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Award sponsored by the Independent Booksellers Association. In 2007, Finney edited the anthology,The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South(University of Georgia Press/Cave Canem), which has become an essential compilation of contemporary African American writers. Her fourth full-length collection of poetry,Head Off & Split, was published by Northwestern University Press in February 2011.
Finney and her work have been featured on Russell Simmons DEF Poetry (HBO series), renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson’s feature “The Meaning of Food” (a PBS production) and National Public Radio. Her work has been praised by Walter Mosley, Nikki Giovanni, and Gloria Naylor. Finney has held distinguished posts at Berea College as the Goode Chair in the Humanities and Smith College as the Grace Hazard Conklin Writer-in-Residence.
Finney is currently an associate professor at the University Kentucky and serves on the boards of Cave Canem and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative and, additionally, has served as a judge for theMaureen Egen Writers Exchangesponsored by Poets & Writers, Inc. She is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets.