Nikky Finney was born on the coast of South Carolina in 1957 to a family of politicians and activists. She began writing poetry as a young girl, during a childhood marked by the civil rights struggle, and subsequently attended Talladega College in Alabama.
Finney's first book of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze (W. Morrow, 1985), followed by Rice (Sister Vision, 1995), Heartwood (University of Kentucky Press, 1997), and The World is Round (InnerLight Publishing, 2003). In 2011, her collection Head Off & Split (Northwestern University Press, 2011) was awarded the National Book Award.
As a photographer and performance artist, Finney worked to engage her political and artistic selves, before finding a unique fusion of the two in her poetry. She is deeply invested in the Black Arts movement, and is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a group of multiracial poets devoted to giving voice to the diversity of Appalachia. Finney is also on the Board of Cave Canem.
In addition to the National Book Award, Finney has received a PEN American Open Book Award and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry. She has taught at the University of Kentucky, is currently a professor at the University of South Carolina.