BPL 2021 Local Authors Expo Spotlight: Ashley M. Jones

Headshot of Ashley M Jones in a colorful beaded jacket and black rimmed hat.
See Ashley M. Jones at the Local Authors Expo. Photo by Amarr Croskey.

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) Blog is highlighting Alabama authors and speakers leading up to the FREE Local Authors Expo this Saturday, November 20

Keep reading to learn more about one of our key speakers and Alabama's Poet Laureate: Ashley M. Jones.

Author name: Ashley M. Jones

Titles by this author: Magic City Gospel, dark / / thing, and REPARATIONS NOW! 

About these books: 

Book cover of Magic City Gospel with a colorful artistic expression a woman with an afro

Magic City Gospel is a love song to Birmingham, the Magic City of the South. In traditional forms and free verse poems, Jones takes readers on a historical, geographical, cultural, and personal journey through her life and the life of her home state. From De Soto’s “discovery” of Alabama to George Wallace’s infamous stance in the schoolhouse door, to the murders of black men like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner in modern America, Magic City Gospel weaves its story through time, weaving Jones’ personal history with the troubled, triumphant, and complicated history of Birmingham, and of Alabama at large. In Magic City Gospel’s pages, you’ll find that “gold is laced in Alabama’s teeth,” but you will also see the dark underbelly of a state and a city with a storied past, and a woman whose history is inextricably linked to that past.

Book cover of dark / / things with dark silhouettes all over the cover.

dark / / thing is a multi-faceted work that explores the darkness/otherness by which the world sees Black people. Jones stares directly into the face of the racism that allows people to be seen as dark things, as objects that can be killed/enslaved/oppressed/devalued. This work, full as it is of slashes of all kinds, ultimately separates darkness from thingness, affirming and celebrating humanity. What is the price of a life, a stolen culture, a stolen heart?

Photo of Ashley M Jones smiling and holding her book REPARATIONS NOW! inside the Alabama School of Fine Arts
Ashley M. Jones poses with REPARATIONS NOW! at ASFA. Photo by Nathan Watson. 

REPARATIONS NOW! asks for what is owed. Moving between voices and through intersecting histories, Jones offers perspectives both sharp and compassionate, exploring the difficulties of navigating our relationships with ourselves and others. From the murder of Mary Turner in 1918 to a case of infidelity to the oppressive nationalist movement of the present, Jones holds us all accountable.

You can find this trilogy of poetry collections at the BPL.

What is your favorite quote that you live by:

Don't start what you can't hold out.

—Willie Lee Lipscomb (my maternal grandmother)

About the author and speaker: Ashley M. Jones is Poet Laureate of the state of Alabama for 2022—2026. 

She holds an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University, and she is the author of Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press 2017), dark / / thing (Pleiades Press 2019), and REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press 2021). She currently lives in Birmingham, AL. 

Aside from Alabama Poet Laureate, Jones has other awards for her poetry, including:

  • Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award
  • Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards
  • Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry
  • A Literature Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts

  • Lucille Clifton Legacy Award

She was a finalist for the Ruth Lily Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship in 2020. Her poems and essays most notably appear in or are forthcoming at CNN, POETRY, The Oxford American, Origins Journal, The Quarry by Split This Rock, and Obsidian.

She teaches Creative Writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and in the Low Residency MFA at Converse University. Jones co-directs PEN Birmingham, and she is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival. She recently served as a guest editor for Poetry Magazine.

Author's website and where to order her book: website | Order Magic City Gospel | Order dark / / thing | Order REPARATIONS NOW!

Black and white photo of Ashley M Jones posing and holding her book REPARATIONS NOW! while she stares off into the distance.
Ashley M. Jones and her poetry both have style. Photo by Amarr Croskey.

You'll get the chance to meet Ashley M. Jones and other local authors this Saturday at the Central Library.

In a Q&A with BPL's PR Department, she gives an introduction and sneak peek into her presentation at the upcoming Local Authors Expo.

BPL: Tell me about your message to be presented during this Saturday's Local Authors Expo.

A. Jones: I'm looking forward to talking about my journey as a writer, and how I ended up as Poet Laureate of the State of Alabama—the youngest and the first person of color. I'm also hoping to read a couple poems!

BPL: What inspired you to write your books?

A. Jones: I am always inspired by my life experiences, by history, and by the tradition of Black poetry which allows us to feel more possible and emboldened in the ongoing freedom struggle.

BPL: Who is your favorite author and why? 

A. Jones: My favorite poet is Lucille Clifton—her work showed me that I do have a place, as my full authentic self—in the poetry landscape. It is possible for me to write my truth and still participate in the literary conversation.

I have been so blessed by her spirit, although I never met her while she was alive—and I've been fortunate to be in relationship with her daughters. Mrs. Lucille's work is truly accessible to everyone, and that's what I aspire to as well.

BPL: What do you hope attendees get out of your presentation during the expo? 

A. Jones: I hope attendees feel like they can attain their publishing goals, as I did, and I hope they feel empowered to write as their authentic selves!

BPL: Advice for new authors or those desiring to write a book?

A. Jones: Be very persistent and patient, and know that your voice and your work is enough. The literary industry is one that often makes us feel like we have to change in order to really make it, but you can meet your goals and be yourself. It's possible!

BPL: Final thoughts to readers?

A. Jones: Remember that we write out of a desire to understand the world, connect with our souls and spirits, and become fully realized—it isn't just an academic pursuit, and it isn't just about money. 

Flyer of the Local Authors Expo with pens and books on it and headshots of the three key speakers.

Hear Ashley M. Jones at the Local Authors Expo this Saturday, November 20, from 10:00 a.m.—2:00 p.m. This event is free to the public, but authors will be selling copies of their books at the expo.

We hope to see you there!