In February of 2020, the Review welcomed Nikky Finney to Sewanee as the thirty-fourth recipient of the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. Poet Ross Gay introduced Finney’s work with a lecture titled “Be Camera, Black-Eyed Aperture,” subsequently published in the Winter 2021 issue. The lecture elucidated the poetics of Finney’s five-decade’s long unflinching witness through five distinct and distinguished poetry collections—On Wings Made of Gauze, Rice, The World is Round, Head Off & Split (winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry), and her then newly published work Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry.
We were fortunate that the award celebration coincided with the publication of Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry, a minglement—Finney’s special word for the collection—of poetry, prose, artifacts, and photographs. Finney sat down with managing editor and poetry editor Eric Smith to retrace the creation of Love Child, from its inception to publication. Their conversation begins with “Love”: “My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015, and I left the University of Kentucky and moved back to South Carolina to take care of him,” Finney says,
and I [found] all of these love notes from him that he scribbled on Post-It notes, on Supreme Court stationary, the representative from South Carolina stationary, the president of South Carolina State stationary. My father’s name for me—private name—in all those letters was “Love Child.” And I remember when he told me why he named me that, when I was a little girl, because he didn’t want somebody else naming me something, and he didn’t want me to forget where I’d come from.
Finney expands love for herself and others its cultivation of her interior space, which her father nurtured and her mother nourished, that sustains her writing. She offers a panoramic and long-view vision of an artist’s life, her life, and recounts with exceptional hindsight the occasions where writers, like Toni Morrison, and readers planted seeds that in “staying the course, doing the work,” grew into her art. “This woman appears [after my reading], and she was so regal and so something. I remember standing up as she got closer,” Finney says. “And she said: ‘You have nothing to do with how beautiful you are: that belongs to you mother and father. But your beautiful mind? You have something to say about that. I just wanted you know: keep at it!’”
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. It is produced by Hellen Wainaina and edited by ProPodcast Solutions with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Nikky Finney’s books are available for purchase from Bookshop.org.