Kaila Wood Interviews Ashley M. Jones

Kaila Wood Interviews Ashley M. Jones

Ashley M. Jones: Alabama’s First and Youngest Black Poet Laureate

By: Kaila Wood

In a time where self-expression and individualism seem to be under attack, Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones has forged her own path in American literature and shows no signs of stopping.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Jones serves as Alabama’s first Black and youngest poet laureate. She has also been a creative writing teacher at the Alabama School of Fine Arts for over eight years and is a member of the Core Faculty at Converse University Low Residency MFA Program. In pursuit of her undergraduate degree, Ms. Jones attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham, majoring in Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish. She furthered her education by obtaining her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Poetry from Florida International University.

After graduate school, her poetic career began to flourish. Her collections include Magic City Gospel (2017), dark // thing (2019 winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry), and REPARATIONS NOW! (2021). Her works tackle issues like Black power, discrimination, self-image, resilience, and so many others. Her most recent collection, REPARATIONS NOW! centers on America’s hypocrisy and history of racial injustice and demands not only financial but social and emotional compensation for the immense hardships that enslaved Africans and African-Americans experienced over the course of human history and the adversity endured throughout the Black diaspora. As Jones explained in an interview with NPR, “This book is full of poems that are about the need for repair … Not only our country, which needs to repair from all of the horrors that it has been through and that it has caused — specifically for my people, for Black people — but also repair on a personal level.” She connects the past to her present and is able to connect with her audience through her personal experiences of racism, Birmingham’s bloody history of anti-activism, and America’s overall attempt to suppress the Black voice.

Though Jones takes great pride in her poetic accomplishments, her joy also comes from her teaching job at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. After obtaining her degrees, Jones was introduced to the teaching field and found her passion, sharing knowledge with all kinds of people, helping them discover their voices, and introducing them to new ways of thinking — everything she does through her own literary works. She finds her biggest reward not in medals or certificates but in seeing how her students have grown both academically and personally, whether she sees the results immediately or years after a student graduates.

Jones is constantly busy with creating her poetry and teaching her students, but she does not let her busy schedule distract her from leisure. When she has free time, Jones loves hanging out with family, watching 90s television especially Family Matters, listening to music, cooking, shopping, and, of course, reading. Her hobbies include crocheting, creating things, and sporadic tap dancing. Taking time for herself in the midst of her passion for serving and teaching others is something Jones believes is one of the keys to her success.

Ashley M. Jones has quite a few plans for the future including being the United States Poet Laureate and becoming an administrative or executive director in the education field. She understands that many people, especially young girls look up to her as a role model, and as a piece of advice to those young girls who are exploring their passions, she says “Go for it.” Many people paved the way for her to be successful, and she encourages everyone else to do the same.