Nikky Finney

Hometown girl, Nikky Finney, comes home this weekend amid much fanfare.

Conway is planning a big welcome home event for poet, educator, advocate and National Book Award-winner Nikky Finney Friday at Coastal Carolina University and Saturday at the Conway City Hall and Whittemore Park Middle School.

Finney will give a keynote lecture at 7 p.m. in the Johnson Auditorium on the Coastal Carolina University campus and will also present an inaugural reading of her poem commissioned by the Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies at CCU. This event is free and open to the public.

Scheduled in conjunction with National Poetry Month, Finney’s visit will highlight her accomplishments as a poet along with her connections to the City of Conway and Horry County. The address will be the kickoff event in a weekend homecoming made possible through a partnership between the City of Conway and CCU’s Joyner Institute.

Finney will be welcomed by Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy Saturday from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. on the grounds of the Conway City Hall. After that Finney, the granddaughter of South Carolina’s first black Supreme Court chief justice and a teacher at Whittemore High School, will move to Whittemore Park Middle School until 2 p.m. where the community and her fans are invited for a meet and greet and book signing. There will also be a taste of the low country and Gullah cooking, according to recently retired CCU professor and Gullah educator Veronica Gerald.

Food will include sweet potatoes in a variety of offerings from baked to candied, perloo rice, which is a staple for anything Gullah, according to Gerald, banana pudding, cabbage, collards, string beans and a variety of desserts.

Guests will also be able to hear Finney read some of her poetry.

“She can read her poetry like no other…It’s more than just somebody reading her works. It’s meaningful,” Gerald said.

Guests are invited to stand before a camera and share their memories of attending Whittemore High School (or Chestnut, Howard, Finklea, etc.), working along area beaches and life growing up and living in Conway and Horry County during the time of segregated schools and communities.

Make an appointment by calling (843) 516-2082 or (843) 263-8133. Interview sessions will be 30 minutes each.

“The welcome home celebration for Nikky Finney was scheduled in April, National Poetry Month, because it offers a perfect opportunity to showcase the intimate and intricate relationship and connection between one’s early years, place, passions and artistic expression,” Gerald said. “The book for which she received the National Book Award abounds with poems, references and evidence of her years growing up in Conway, the South Carolina Lowcountry, and influences from her Gullah Geechee parents and upbringing.”    

Finney’s national acclaim includes a 20-year tenure as the Guy Davenport Endowed Professor of English at the University of Kentucky. Since 2013, Finney has been the John H. Bennett Jr. Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, with appointments in both the Department of English Language and Literature and the African American Studies program. Her 2011 acceptance speech for the National Book Award for Poetry -- awarded for “Head Off & Split” -- has become nationally renowned and is on display along with her work in both print and video form at the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

CCU’s Joyner Institute examines the historical migration and scattering of African populations to local geographical areas and the subsequent evolution of blended cultures, specifically Gullah. The work of the institute provides students with experiential learning opportunities, both at home and abroad, that center on interconnections among local, national, and global peoples and their societies.

The Johnson Auditorium is in Room 116 of the E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration, located at 119 Chanticleer Drive E. on the main Conway campus. Parking is available in lot R, outside the Brittain building and adjacent to the Wall building. Visit coastal.edu/safety/parking.

Visit Nikky Finney online at nikkyfinney.net.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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