Poet Nikky Finney to edit USC Press poetry series

Posted on: 5/5/2014; Updated on: 5/5/2014
By Peggy Binette, 803-777-7704

National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney knows the benefit of a good mentor. Finney, the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair of Southern Literature and Creative Writing at the University of South Carolina, has benefited firsthand from the counsel and friendship of writers like poet and essayist Nikki Giovanni, Dos Passos Prize-winning novelist and fellow South Carolinian Percival Everett and Pushcart Prize- and Emmy Award-winning poet and editor Kwame Dawes.

In turn, she has mentored countless young writers throughout her academic career. Finney will now serve as mentor in a new capacity, as editor of USC Press' Palmetto Poetry Series, which was founded by poet Dawes to identify, publish and promote exceptional poets with South Carolina connections.

Finney says she looks forward to her new role.

"I believe poetry is the most honest, courageous and powerful expression of the human mind and heart in concert. I am honored to be the new editor of this critical series," says Finney who joined the university's faculty last year. "Deep in my heart, I believe South Carolina can become known for far more than its beautiful beaches, its great football team, its archaic gun laws, and now a few state legislators who are trying to return us to the Stone Age regarding education and enlightenment, all because of that beautiful rainbow of a word 'gay.' We are a better state than we are showing ourselves to be in these modern times. Poetry has the amazing power to lead us to the heart ground and to the high ground, far far away from hate and fear, if we allow it to."

Under Dawes' editorship, the series published an initial three volumes: "A Book of Exquisite Disasters" by South Carolina Poetry Initiative co-founder Charlene Spearen; "Ota Benga under My Mother's Roof" by the late poet and educator Carrie Allen McCray; and "Seeking: Poetry and Prose Inspired by the Art of Jonathan Green," edited by Dawes and S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth.

With Finney as its new editor, the Palmetto Poetry Series will continue to publish outstanding individual collections and anthologies from poets in or from South Carolina, highlighting the breadth and depth of talent among poets whom have called South Carolina their home.

Finney's editorship of the Palmetto Poetry Series will be augmented by an editorial board comprising some of the state's top poets, including Dawes, Finney's fellow National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee Wentworth, Allen University humanities chair Charlene Spearen and S.C. Poetry Book Prize winner Ray McManus.

"The Palmetto Poetry Series celebrates the enormous range and talent of South Carolina's poets and brings much deserved national and international attention to their work," Wentworth says. "I am grateful to Nikky Finney for her leadership and to Jonathan Haupt for continuing the important work initiated by Kwame Dawes. The series a vital part of the state's literary cannon."

April's National Poetry Month brought with it the first publication of the Palmetto Poetry Series under Finney's leadership, Wentworth's "New and Selected Poems," comprising more than 50 selections from her previous three books of verse and some 28 new poems. The collection celebrates Wentworth's impressive body of work from her tenure as South Carolina Poet Laureate, a position she has held since 2003.

USC Press director Jonathan Haupt says Finney joins other notable series editors at the press.

"As with last year's announcement that Pat Conroy was joining us as editor of our fiction imprint Story River Books, Nikky Finney's appointment as editor of the Palmetto Poetry Series solidifies USC Press' commitment to finding and fostering exceptional literary talents here in our home state," says Haupt. "Nikky's monumental skills and unparalleled instincts as a poet make her an ideal choice for reinvigorating our poetry series. Moreover, she brings to the Palmetto Poetry Series undeniable evidence of the power and responsibility of poets to reshape lives, both at home and elsewhere."

In Spring 2015, the series will publish its next volume, "Little Anodynes" by Charleston native Jon Pineda, author of two previous poetry collections, "The Translator's Diary" (winner of the 2007 Green Rose Prize) and "Birthmark" (winner of the 2003 Crab Orchard Award in Poetry); the novel "Apology" (winner of the 2013 Milkweed National Fiction Prize); and the memoir "Sleep in Me" (a Library Journal Best Books of 2010 selection). "Little Anodynes" was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, Akron Prize and FIELD Prize, indicative of the high quality of writing Finney hopes to recruit for Palmetto Poetry Series moving forward.

Submissions for the series are accepted year-round through the University of South Carolina Press (www.sc.edu/uscpress) and reviewed periodically as opportunity allows, given the active schedules of Finney and the board members.


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