Renowned poet, professor, and author has been awarded a prestigious prize for Southern Literature
Professor Nikky Finney continues to collect accolades for her extraordinary body of work. The latest of these laurels is the 2022 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature, awarded by the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies at Mercer University. The prize “recognizes authors who have made significant career contributions to the complicated tradition of writing about … the difficulty and beauty of [the South],” says David A. Davis, associate director of the Spencer Center. Past winners include Yusef Komunyakaa, Ernest Gaines, Wendell Berry, and Barbara Kingsolver.
As Davis puts it in the Center’s announcement: “Nikky Finney writes powerfully and rhapsodically about the experiences, memories, families and communities of Black people living in the U.S. South…. Her poems explore the beauty and the sorrow found in experiences and objects, and they celebrate the stories of people who have survived and achieved. We are immensely proud to present her with the Thomas Robinson Prize.”
Finney’s response to receiving the award is characteristically transcendent:
Words come and go. But the word that remains the great shark in the Atlantic Ocean, that is my life, is the word ‘Southerner.’ This word that fits and begins me, that also knows how to camouflage, deep dive and create its own myth, while also possessing the right historical teeth for the futuristic job of writing.… I read southern writers as a girl poet. They became the nexus of humanity for me. I learned the true altitude of southern worlds from Ernest Gaines and Yusef Komunyakaa then took off on my own trail. To be invited to stand with these former Thomas Robinson honorees, as well as all the others of the past 10 years, those who have engaged and wrestled with this complicated land, sea and air is truly an extraordinary moment in my life.