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Alabama poet laureate Ashley M. Jones awarded $50,000 grant from the Academy of American Poets

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Alabama poet laureate Ashley Jones is one of 22 poet laureates in the 2022 cohort of Academy of American Poets Poet Laureate Fellows (Photo Credit: Amarr Croskey)

Alabama poet laureate Ashley Jones has been awarded $50,000 to support her public poetry projects.

The Academy of American Poets has announced that it is awarding a combined total of $1.1 million to its 2022 cohort of Poet Laureate Fellows. The fellowship, which launched in 2019 in partnership with the Mellon Foundation, awards $50,000 to 22 poet laureates around the nation who have “made positive contributions to their communities in these roles and beyond,” according to a press release from the Academy.

The financial awards will support the fellows’ civic poetry programs in the upcoming year. The Academy of American Poets will also provide a total of $72,200 to eight local non-profit organizations that have agreed to support the fellows’ proposed projects.

Jones will use the funds to help implement a project called the Alabama Poetry Delegation, a multi-regional leadership and service initiative which “seeks to engage and support poetry projects and poets across the state,” according to a description in the release.

Jones will identify five regions and five regional delegates to shepherd poetry projects over three years. Phase one will involve the selection of delegates from each region. During that phase, Jones will work with libraries and literary organizations across the state to distribute an online Regional Delegate application.
Delegates will be chosen based on strength of application materials and a demonstrated history of working within the region on poetry projects and events. During phase two, delegates will distribute a nominations page for each region and choose two projects per year. The Alabama Writers’ Forum will assist Jones with the fellowship project.

“My laureate project seeks to make space for every corner of Alabama to experience poetry, and I’m grateful to be able to start work on that initiative very soon (with some help from the Alabama Writers’ Forum, Inc. ),” Jones said in the post. “Alabama is a valuable destination for good poetry and good people (who will always fight the good fight against those who seek to silence), not a place where good things come to end.”

Jones was named poet laureate of Alabama last August and was officially  confirmed in December. Jones, whose tenure runs from 2022 to 2026, is the first Black and youngest poet laureate in Alabama history.

Jones, an author and teacher, has long been vocal about supporting poets from Alabama. In 2021, she spent a two-month tenure as the guest editor of Poetry Magazine. One of her missions: elevate writers and creators from Alabama and around the South. The magazine released three issues under her oversight, featuring a number of poets from Alabama, including Tina Mozelle BrazielVoice Porter, Alina Stefanescu, and Josh Alex Baker. Jade Pilgrom, a fellow Alabama School of Fine Arts alum, designed the cover of each edition with a triptych of Alabama wildlife and culture.
Jones said she embraced the editor role of Poetry Magazine with  “radical care.”
“I wanted to open the door for poets who felt it had been closed to them before. I wanted to publish what I call ‘hallelujah poems,’ poems which have heartbeats and blood and sweat and tears,” Jones told AL.com last August. “I wanted to highlight the South and Alabama, my home.”
Jones echoed similar sentiments in an interview after her poet laureate confirmation ceremony in December. One of her biggest goals, said Jones, is to continue to develop programs and resources to support writers and thinkers throughout Alabama.

 

“I’m definitely looking forward to just elevating poets across the state to empower their own region and make things happen for their region specifically. Not just those big cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, and Huntsville. I’m hoping to reach all the places.”

Jones is also the co-director of PEN Birmingham and the founder and director of the Magic City Poetry Festival, which celebrates community through poetry, history, nonprofits, craftspersons, and culture workers in Birmingham. The festival also offers an Eco Poetry Fellowship, a yearlong tenure which pairs poets with environmental and social justice initiatives.

Since her selection as poet laureate, Jones– who already had a packed schedule of writing and lecturing, as well as instructing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts–has been on a steady circuit of poetry readings, and media appearances. In addition to appearances throughout the state, Jones has been profiled on Good Morning Americathe New York TimesMadame Noire, and The Bitter Southerner.

In March, Secret and BET highlighted Jones in a series for Women’s History Month. Last month, she shared the stage with singer and American Idol winner Ruben Studdard to pay tribute to Alabama at the closing ceremony of The World Games in Birmingham.
Jones is the author of three books “Magic City Gospel,”  “dark // thing,” and “Reparations Now!” which published in 2021.

In “Reparations Now!” Jones calls for reparations for Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States though both an exploration of historic trauma and a celebration of Black life. This month, Jones will be the keynote speaker at the 2022 Alabama Writers’ Cooperative Conference where she will present a talk entitled “Poetry as a Path to Reparations: The Role of Art in the Justice Struggle.”