Author & 2011 National Book Award Winner for Head Off & Split
Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, and one of Lexington’s most beloved literary figures came to Lexington in 1990 as a one-year visiting professor at UK. She wrote her second book of poetry, Rice, in a cubbyhole desk at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning downtown.
She has written four books of poetry: Head Off & Split , for which she won the 2011 National Book Award. Her other books include: The World Is Round (2003); Rice (1995); and On Wings Made of Gauze (1985). Her work is heavily influenced by her childhood in South Carolina, its landscape and her upbringing as the daughter of civil rights activists. Her father, Ernest Finney, was appointed in 1994 as South Carolina’s first black chief justice since Reconstruction.
Finney is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a group of writers based in Lexington.
Neil Chethik, director of Lexington’s Carnegie Center, has said: “She is one of the reasons we have become the literary capital of middle America, and it’s not only for the quality of the writing she produces. She shows a goodness of heart with her students, with leaders, colleagues, and friends. Kentucky has been lucky to have her as she reached her full power as a writer, and South Carolina is lucky to get her back.”
UK President Eli Capilouto noted that place has been a powerful presence in Finney’s poetry: “She departs UK in the same way in which she has honored us with her presence — graciously, writing that ‘Kentucky will forever be the place where I became a writer but South Carolina is the only place that I have ever called home.’”
One online fan of Nikky Finney has written, “Her contributions have given us bragging rights to equal those from UK Athletics. Her departure is a genuine loss.” Nikky Finney is being presented the Martha Layne Collins Award for Excellence for her body of work and for raising the bar and showing the world that Kentucky is a place where excellence is found.