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Words of Encouragement

Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones Believes in Art for the Community

At the tender age of 7, Ashley M. Jones was inspired to write her first poem. The Birmingham native claims she already “loved reading and writing,” in part thanks to the encouragement of her parents, who worked with Ashley and her three siblings, grooming their intellects before any of them set foot inside a classroom. 

Fast-forward to second grade, when Ashley’s assignment was to memorize and recite something to her fellow students at Epic Elementary. “I chose the poem ‘Harriet Tubman’ from the book ‘Honey, I Love’ by Eloise Greenfield,” she recalled. “It’s told from a Black perspective, and as I recited those lines, I felt a confidence and assuredness I had never had. I felt free – just the fact that I was reciting powerful words by a Black woman about a Black woman.”

Those feelings resonated with Ashley so deeply that she went home that day and transformed her spy journal into a poetry journal, officially devoting herself to the art of lyrical expression and eventually enrolling in the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where she teaches today. She earned an MFA in poetry from Florida International University and has, in her own words, “been obsessed with poetry her whole life.” “I wanted to be like Toni Morrison and win a Nobel Prize,” she confessed, eyes sparkling. 

It seems Ashley might be well on her way to her goals – at just 31, she’s already earned the title of Alabama Poet Laureate, a well-deserved honor, given her passion for poetry and community. Her third book, “Reparations Now!” was released this fall and is available at Thank You Books. She describes her personal style as “variable” — in each poem, she’s liable to capture her own “nerdiness, Southerness or Blackness and write about topics ranging from personal life to politics.” 

Ashley wants to do great things during her four-year term as Poet Laureate. She plans to continue working on her nonprofit, the Magic City Poetry Festival, providing free poetry programming and conversation every April, which is National Poetry Month, and now throughout the year. She’s part of a group called InToTo Creative Arts Forum, focusing on artistic expression for the homeless and oppressed. Currently, InToTo offers classes and workshops at the Firehouse Ministries Shelter, as well as art sales benefiting inhabitants. Finally, Ashley hopes to highlight other local wordsmiths “who are doing awesome work” — which she got a taste of last summer while guest editing the July/August edition of Poetry Magazine and creating a feature on Alabama poets. These projects, of course, are in addition to her own busy schedule of writing, teaching, traveling and giving readings. 

“I want to work with seniors as well. I'm not sure how that will look, but that is the goal,” she added. “I want to reach all levels — go into schools, give talks, give workshops and continue poetry programming for everyone.”