Alabama: A Premier Literary Destination
Alabama has named its newest Poet Laureate, and for the first time in the 91-year history of poet laureates, a person of color has been selected.
Ms. Ashley Jones, of Birmingham, Ala., finds herself among a respected list of Alabama poets, though her experience leading to laureate status is unique from the rest.
Jones, outside of a brief but important stay in Florida, has resided in Alabama her whole life. At the age of 31, her experiences growing up in our state are not the same as those of Rosa Parks or Vivian Malone Jones. “My experience was different; it was no longer about not being allowed inside an establishment, but rather what happened once inside. I remember my family being watched, as though they were eager for us to make a mistake. There is a way to ask someone if they need help, and then there’s another way to ask someone if they need help. It’s all in the tone.”
We had the opportunity to sit down with Jones to discuss her new appointment and her vision for her four-year term as Poet Laureate. Jones titles herself as a “political poet,” which makes her designation increasingly progressive and meaningful for our state. While Jones utilizes her platform and poetry as a means for her activism, it is essential to note that her poetry stems from a deep appreciation for her beloved home, Birmingham, Alabama.
When Jones moved to Florida to acquire her Master of Fine Arts degree, she set the goal that not only would she attain her degree, but she would also graduate with a publishable manuscript in hand. As she dove into her creative writing, the one topic that consistently weaved its way through was her adoration and homesickness for Alabama. Despite any uncertainty, fear, or experience growing up, Jones was proud of her heritage and knew that she wanted to return home to make her mark on our state’s civil rights movement.
As poet laureate, Jones has the capacity to impact generations across our state. During her next four years, she hopes to travel the state and create spaces for creative writers, thinkers, and artists to allow their voices to discover their own platform. Jones hosts the Magic City Poetry Festival and would love to see it expanded throughout the state, and bolster the writing community with encouragement, opportunity, and funding.
Her most recent work, “Reparations Now!” – with its politically-charged title – is Jones’ hope for healing within our state and nation. “All we are asking for is the ability to live our lives without feeling like someone else’s hand is on it.” As Jones points out, the term reparations has many connotations outside of “finances.” It stems from the same root of to repair or to heal. Even in speaking with Jones briefly, her authenticity and passion is evident and her hope for Alabama is genuine.
Ms. Ashley Jones will be officially commissioned by Governor Ivey later this fall and will begin her term on January 1, 2022. We hope Jones will be able to visit The Shoals this coming spring, and we are already exploring ways we can partner to benefit our own culturally rich community. We sincerely appreciate Jones giving us her time and using her influence for the good of Alabama. We are honored to tell a small piece of her story and to recognize her accomplishments.
We encourage you to research Ms. Ashley Jones and her work, as well as our Shoals Sphere book of the month “All Along You Were Blooming.” We hope this new program has brought new exposure, experience, and education to our community.