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Nikky Finney defends the arts

By Vonkeisha Gibson
On February 26, 2016

Courtesy of Poetry Foundation

National bestselling author Nikky Finney, came to Florida A&M University during their 8th annual spring Literary Forum themed Afra-Retrosim: African-American Women and the American South.

Finney has authored four books of poetry: ”Head Off & Split” (2011); “The World Is Round” (2003); ”Rice” (1995); and “On Wings Made of Gauze” (1985). Finney also wrote ”Heartwood” (1997), edited ”The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean” South (2007) and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets. Finney's fourth book of poetry, ”Head Off & Split,” was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for poetry.

The forum was held Feb. 25-26. Ruth Sawh, english professor at FAMU, was delighted in the presence of Finney. Sawh said she was honored that Finney took the time to come to FAMU.

On Thursday, Finney instructed an intimate writing workshop. At the workshop, she said not enough artists are coming to campus.

“There are not enough universities inviting artists to campus, this is why there are so many young people still looking for their path because the arts have been taken away,” Finney said.   

Finney argued that when money is limited in school systems, the art programs are the first to suffer. According to The Atlantic, Republican governors have proposed cuts to humanities departments at state universities to rebalance funding towards more obviously “practical” subjects. 

“The arts still go on whether you invite them to your campus or not. You can’t stop art. That’s the power of it,” Finney said. She encouraged FAMU students to become autodidactic instead of depending on others to teach them.  

The workshop allowed students to learn from someone who is actually a full time writer. Finney said she didn’t tell anyone she wanted to be a poet growing up.

“How do you tell your family you want to be a poet without getting laughed at,” she asked.

She spoke about the benefits of being a serious writer while acknowledging the hard parts.

“In order to become a writer, you have to be willing to give up some things,” Finney said.

On Friday, Finney reverenced writers, such as Nikki Giovani and Lucille Clifton. Finney also remembered something very important James Baldwin taught her: “It is the poets’ job to remind us of what it is like to be human.” Finney said the weight of this task is the reason art must be taken seriously.  

A student visiting FAMU from Full Sail University, Ishmael Mayhew, hopes his generation gains Finney’s wisdom.

“Her words were truly remarkable, I hope our generation fuses her wisdom with what is relevant in our culture today,” Mayhew said.

Finney is a professor at The University of South Carolina, teaching in their MFA program. She travels to speak with students all over the world.

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