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The Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Awards
Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina, within listening distance of the sea. A child of activists, she came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements. At Talladega College, nurtured by Hale Woodruff's Amistad murals, Finney began to understand the powerful synergy between art and history.
Finney has authored four books of poetry: On Wings Made of Gauze (1985); Rice (1995); The World Is Round (2003); and Head Off & Split (2011), which received the National Book Award for poetry in 2011. Finney’s electrifying acceptance speech prompted the ceremony's emcee, actor John Lithgow, to proclaim, "That's the best acceptance for anything I've ever heard in my life." Head Off & Split was also selected as the 2015-2016 First Year Book by University of Maryland, College Park, providing an opportunity for students and faculty to delve into complex topics using a common text.
Finney writes extensively for journals, magazines and other publications. Her new work includes The Battle of and for the Black Face Boy, commissioned in 2013 by the University of Maryland and published in the fall 2015 issue of Oxford American, the first feature-length poem to be published in the literary magazine.
Finney’s other awards and honors include a PEN American Open Book Award for Rice in 1997, the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council in 1999, induction into the Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2002, and the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Booksellers Association for The World is Round in 2004,
In 2013, Finney returned to South Carolina as The John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters and Literature at the University of South Carolina after teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky for 21 years.
Watch the video of Finney's National Book Award acceptance speech.