Upper School welcomes Alabama Poet Laureate Ashley M. Jones

To kick off a Month of Gratitude, Spartanburg Day School Upper School students showed an appreciation for the arts Monday as they welcomed nationally acclaimed poet Ashley M. Jones, who currently serves as the poet laureate of her home state of Alabama.

Jones addressed ninth-12th grade students during two afternoon sessions, reading selections from her third and most recent poetry collection, Reparations Now!. She also led a small group of creative writing and interested students in a hands-on poetry workshop. 

Jones received an MFA in poetry from Florida International University. Her debut poetry collection, Magic City Gospel, won the silver medal in poetry in the 2017 Independent Publishers Book Awards, and her second book, dark // thing, won the 2018 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry from Pleiades Press. Jones is founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival, board member of the Alabama Writers Cooperative and the Alabama Writers Forum, co-director of PEN Birmingham, and a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Locally, Jones is also a member of the core faculty at the Converse College Low Residency MFA Program. 

Sam Mitchell, coordinator of the Mildred Harrison Dent Fine Arts Center, Mildred Harrison Dent Endowed Chair and Upper School Art Teacher, said Jones’s messages about history, joy, family, faith, rage, and injustice empowered Upper School students to embrace their poetic voice.

“We are grateful that our community has opportunities as important as this availed to us due in part to the Mildred H. Dent Fine Arts Endowment,” Mitchell said. “A special thank you to Ms. Jones for her passion for poetry and her drive to mentor and teach others. Her timely message resonated with our students and faculty through both her large speaking engagements and smaller afternoon workshop.”

Using a writing prompt, Jones encouraged students to write their own poem about something passed down in their own family. She expressed the importance of helping the next generation learn to tell their story in part by learning about and actively engage in history. 

“Even my generation sometimes has glossed over things, and that’s what’s kind of kept us in the same place. So, I’m hoping those who have read (my books) are really taking in those historical aspects and researching and listening to someone tell their authentic story,” Jones said. “I find that it’s sometimes easier to have those hard conversations through poetry, for one, but also if I’m telling you exactly what happened to me, it’s harder for you to say well that’s not true because I’m telling you what happened. So, I’m hoping that it helps the students to understand that they may not know everybody’s story. It does take listening; it does take empathy for all of us to move forward and understand what others are going through.”

“I am so grateful that I got to be a part of the poetry workshop with Ms. Jones,” said junior Emily Ledford. “Not only did I learn a new formula for creating poems, but I also gained more gratitude for what impact my family has had on my life.”

Sophomore Rose Harmon called Jones a “brilliant public speaker.” 

“Her presence is very warm, positive, and the longer she spoke, I connected a link between the words I had read and the living person who wrote them,” Rose said. “I could see the deliberateness in her character (accented in her form poems), the quickness (shown in some of her wittier lines), and most importantly an intent behind her poems that I had not been able to see the first time. I'm grateful that I got the chance to attend her workshop as well, mostly because I enjoyed hearing the work that was produced within it. It was, in my opinion, a fitting prelude to the Month of Gratitude.”