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January 7, 2013

Poet Nikky Finney to teach at USC in the fall

The National Book Award winner, a native of Columbia, leaves a longtime post at the University of Kentucky

Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, is leaving the University of Kentucky to return home to South Carolina.

The decision to take a job at the University of South Carolina is based on spending more time with her aging parents, including her father Ernest Finney, who was appointed in 1994 as the first African American Chief Justice of South Carolina since Reconstruction.

“My decision to leave UK at this time is a daughter's decision,” she wrote on her website Monday. “My mother and father are 79 and 82 respectively, and in need of more and more of me as time flies ... After thirty-eight years of being away from South Carolina it is time to go home. I feel there are projects waiting on me there, books to write on that home soil, and students to nurture and guide. The University of South Carolina, graciously, made me an offer I could not refuse.”

That offer includes the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Literature, a joint appointment in the English Language and Literature department and the African American Studies program. Finney said she will also be teaching in USC's creative writing program.

Mark Kornbluh, Dean of Arts and Sciences, said Finney was not looking for a counter-offer and did not give UK the opportunity to give one.

Finney came to Lexington about 1990 as a one-year visiting professor at UK. She wrote her second book, “Rice,” in a cubbyhole desk at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning downtown. Last year, she was named UK's Guy Davenport Endowed Chair in English.

She has authored four books of poetry: “Head Off & Split” (2011), for which she won the National Book Award; “The World Is Round” (2003); “Rice” (1995); and “On Wings Made of Gauze” (1985). Her work is heavily influenced by her childhood in South Carolina, its landscape and her upbringing as the daughter of civil rights activists.

Finney said she will finish out the school year at UK and begin at USC in August.

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