‘Black Girl Genius’ Nikky Finney Visits FAMU

In continuation of Black History Month, a diverse crowd of Tallahassee residents gathered in Lee Hall on Friday night for the conclusion of the eighth Annual Spring Literary Forum.  

In continuation of its theme “Afra-Retroism: African-American Women and the American South”, Florida A&M University welcomed nationally-recognized poet Nikky Finney.

Following a poignant performance by the FAMU Gospel Choir, Finney, a graduate of two historically black universities, began her speech titled “Black Mother-Wit in the Age of Cover Girls, Maseratis, and Our 21st Century Epidemic of Lying”.

“I felt like so much had been kept from me,” Nikky said, regarding growing up in the American south. “There was my family and there was my community that taught me all the things that they could teach me, but there was so much else that had been buried.”

Nikky Finney is an award-winning author, writer and Civil Rights activist from South Carolina. She has taught creative writing classes at the University of Kentucky and is now the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina.

Finney has also written and published four books of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze, RICE, The World Is Round, and Head Off & Split, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011.

“[James Baldwin] taught me that the poet is the only one who can tell us what is like to lose, what is like to win, what it is like to feel pain, to feel abandoned, to die, to love, to not give up,” Finney said.

Though soft-spoken, the words the poet delivered to the intimate crowd were quite potent.

“When I realized someone had actually planfully, dutifully, legislatively, taken great measures to keep such great truths from me, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to learning everything I could about everything they did not want me to know,” Finney said.

With the help of sponsors such as the Meek-Eaton Southeastern Black Archives Research Museum, the FAMU National Alumni Association, the Department of English and the College of Social Sciences, Nikky Finney’s inspirational words were able to fill the room with knowledge leaving the audience roaring with applause.

“The beauty and bounty of being a ‘black girl genius’ in America…” she said. “You get to call yourself a ‘black girl genius’ in America only if you understand that you do not know everything, you just want to.”

Closing with a story about the first meeting with her literary hero, it was clear that the forum saved the best for last. Finney’s speech was littered with ‘black girl genius’ and was ideal for the Black History Month-inspired eighth Annual Spring LIterary Forum.