Poet Nikky Finney is appointed Guy Davenport Endowed English Professor at University of Kentucky

September 13, 2012 

National Book Awards

Poet Nikky Finney summoned the souls of slaves of her native South Carolina, who were forbidden to read or write, in her acceptance speech.


English professor and 2011 National Book Award winner Nikky Finney recently was appointed the inaugural Guy Davenport Endowed English Professor, an award honoring one of the University of Kentucky's most distinguished professors.

Guy Mattison Davenport, author, poet, painter and critic, retired in 1990 as a UK Distinguished Alumni Professor of English. Throughout his career, he received national and international recognition from several educational and professional institutions for his many achievements. Honoring this legacy, the endowed professorship was made possible through a generous donation to the College of Arts and Sciences by Davenport's former student, Judith Janssen.

Davenport's most prestigious awards include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the 1981 Morton Dauwen Zabel award for fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Leviton-Blumenthal Prize for poetry.

Outside of his many accolades, Davenport's legacy continues to inspire UK students and faculty.

"Guy Davenport made monumental contributions to both his field and to the University of Kentucky," Mark Kornbluh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said. "He was respected internationally for his originality and creativity, as well as for his dedication to the classroom, and we are very pleased to honor Nikky Finney, another exceptionally creative scholar, in his name."

Finney said she was honored to receive the award in the name of Davenport, a scholar she deeply admires, and another South Carolina native. In addition, Finney bought Davenport's house, and her study is where he used to write.

"There is so much in a name," Finney said. "There is so much when a name is lent to another. There's so much intellectual rigor and artfulness gathered around the name of Guy Madison Davenport. A wonderful teacher. A Southerner who knew so much about the wide world beyond the South. A man devoted to literature and art. ... My name with his name now and his name with mine, now intertwined. As long as we are connected at this academic hip, I will remember the power and presence of a great name. I am honored by this appointment."

Davenport died in 2005 at age 77.

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