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Ashley M. Jones Is Named Poet Laureate in Alabama

When she started writing “Reparations Now!” she did not yet know what the title would be, but she wrote what was on her mind: the condition of being Black in America.

In “The Kid Next to Me at the 7pm Showing of The Avengers Has a Toy Gun,” a boy talks and pretends to shoot his toy gun throughout the movie, and his boisterous behavior is chalked up to boys being boys. The boy “is, incidentally, about the size of Tamir Rice: is alive and will keep living — and wait do I need to tell you the color of his skin?”

Other poems, like “She Is Beauty, She Is Grace,” which is dedicated to Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Oluwatoyin Salau “and so many killed Black girls,” are about the ways Black women can be robbed of their personhood by society and by men, but they are also a window into her upbringing in a home where she was taught to take pride in her Blackness.

Growing up in Birmingham, Ms. Jones could not escape the feeling that in order to find success she had to leave home for a bigger city, so she moved to Miami to earn a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. She knew she would miss her family, but she did not anticipate that she would long for Alabama itself — the weather, the way life does not speed by as it does in bigger cities, the accents, the food. “Everything.” She returned home in 2015 and has been writing, teaching and gathering people around poetry since.

“The biggest thing that I learned moving away is that love is a complete word,” she said. “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.”

Her love of family and of Alabama and its people is what makes it possible for Ms. Jones to praise it and criticize it, and why she is able to, in the same beat, say that Alabama is beautiful and in desperate need of repair.

Video: Michelle D. Jackson/The Black Writers Workspace

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