Alabama’s newest poet laureate is Ashley M. Jones, an unapologetic Black woman who writes searingly on race and history. Ms. Jones, 31, whose most recent collection is entitled “Reparations Now!” is also the youngest poet ever chosen for the state’s honor.
Born in Birmingham, Ms. Jones finds inspiration from Alabama’s history, and has written extensively about Black men and women who were enslaved in the Deep South. While her work is contemporary in nature, she does not shy away from topics based on Alabama’s shameful history of white supremacy and racism.
And while her work may cause some discomfort to readers, her writing also evokes the kind of stirring emotions often found in an award-winning artist. “Jones is already an ambassador of poetry for the state and will elevate the visibility of all Alabama writers, including those who have been underrepresented in the state’s literary history,” wrote the Alabama poet laureate selection committee in their decision to honor Ms. Jones, which was unanimous.
Alabama torn on how to teach about racism
Still, Ms. Jones is a curious choice for a state that recently banned Critical Race Theory from being taught in classrooms. Her poetry touches on many of the manifestations of racism and white supremacy that schools are no longer allowed to discuss for fear of upsetting White parents and school boards.
But Ms. Jones does not concern herself with what school boards think, instead focusing on the experience of Black communities across the country. “When we really look at the day-to-day lives of people of color in America, there hasn’t been this sweeping change that we like to pretend that we’ve had,” she said in an interview with The New York Times.
And while Ms. Jones briefly left Alabama for graduate school in Florida, she soon returned home after feeling something was missing in her life.
“The biggest thing that I learned moving away is that love is a complete word. It’s not just, ‘I like this thing, it’s always good to me.’ Love means also understanding what’s wrong and committing to pointing that out and trying to change those things that are wrong. And that’s how I feel about the South.”
Ms. Jones’ poems include both traditional verse as well as slam poetry and oral traditions. She will hold the position of Alabama’s Poet Laureate from 2022 to 2026.