UofSC professor and poet honored for creative vision to spark social change nationwide
University of South Carolina professor and acclaimed poet Nikky Finney has been recognized as a visionary artist driving social change in the United States.
The Ford Foundation has named Finney, the John H. Bennett Jr. Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters in the College of Arts and Sciences, an Art of Change fellow.
The awards support 25 artists and cultural leaders in creating powerful works that help advance freedom, justice and inclusion.
“I love linking arms with an institution like the Ford Foundation. The leadership there really has an understanding of art being capable of moving mountains,” Finney says. “The writing I do keeps me uncomfortable and sometimes makes those listening equally uncomfortable. When you insist on pulling people out of their comfort zone, that’s not always a place where an artist gets recognition and applause. But this is the arena the artist, at least this artist, must continue to occupy. I want my work to matter to the human condition and not necessarily to the popular vote."
A South Carolina native, Finney won the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry for her collection “Head Off & Split.” She holds a joint appointment in the English department and the African American Studies program, where her work focuses on African American history, gender and sexuality, art, race and social justice.
Other Art of Change honorees include legendary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, internationally renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel and Academy Award nominated director Ava DuVernay.
“Art is essential in a free and flourishing society. Artists are the visionaries who can shine light on complexity and possibility, and inspire us to make those societies more just and more beautiful,” says Elizabeth Alexander, the Ford Foundation’s director of creativity and free expression. “This fellowship recognizes an extraordinarily diverse group of brilliant artists and innovators whose works embody social justice, and enables them to come together and collaborate toward a more just and inclusive future.”
The yearlong fellowship includes a $50,000 stipend for individual awardees, who will create works to be showcased in late 2018 that explore questions of freedom and justice.
Finney said the other honorees have long served as inspirations to her. She believes the fellowship announcement came at the right moment, emphasizing how art is now more important than ever as the nation and world face violence and conflict.
“Right now, I have to be hardest at work as a poet, as a human being, as a teacher, as a person who lives in this community,” she says.