September 15, 2015

UAB grad wins national writers’ award and $30,000 grant

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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ashley jonesCreatively speaking to her generation through poetry has resulted in national recognition for 25-year-old Ashley M. Jones. Jones has been selected to receive the 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award.

A 2012 graduate of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, Jones received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. She minored in Spanish and was a part of the UAB Honors College’s University Honors Program. She now works as a creative writing teacher at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards is the only national literary awards program of its kind devoted exclusively to women. Created by well-known author Rona Jaffe in 1995, the foundation identifies and supports female writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their careers. Jaffe passed away in 2005. The awards are given to writers of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction.

“Winning this award validates what I’ve been writing,” Jones said. “Sometimes writing is a very lonely process, and you never know if your work will be well-received or if it will be meaningful to others. The award lets me know that my work is valuable, and it encourages me to continue.”

Nominations for the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards are anonymous. Jones did not know her work had been submitted until she received notification from the foundation stating that she was a finalist. She then sent in additional poems and a personal essay. Jones says this makes winning the award even more special because it was based on the impact her writing had on a reader and not something she was actively seeking.

“Professors in all of the academic areas I was involved in at UAB influenced me greatly. They cultivated the interdisciplinary mindset I’d had since high school and helped me discover my own poetic voice.”

“She confronts race and identity through pop culture, history and her own personal experiences — but there is something new and exciting going on,” her nominator wrote. “Her poems approach the complicated racial and national identity of the author with heartache and humor in a voice that also speaks to her generation.”

Her poetry is heavily influenced by the history of her hometown, Birmingham, Alabama, the Civil Rights Movement and her personal experiences.

“I want to be a model for young writers of color and show them that their writing can be political, and it can tell important stories without compromising literary merit,” Jones said. “I hope my writing is accessible to all readers and that it creates awareness and sparks a fresh way of thinking about our country’s past and present.”

Jones is one of six emerging female writers who have been singled out for excellence by the foundation and will receive awards of $30,000 each. She will use the funds to complete her first book of poetry, titled “Magic City Gospel.” The grant will also enable Jones to continue her outreach work leading poetry workshops for children in elementary and high schools in the Birmingham area. She credits her love of writing to being introduced to reading at a very early age and the educational guidance she received throughout her academic career.

“Professors in all of the academic areas I was involved in at UAB influenced me greatly,” Jones said. “They cultivated the interdisciplinary mindset I’d had since high school and helped me discover my own poetic voice.”

The Rona Jaffe Foundation will honor its annual Writers’ Awards winners at a private ceremony Thursday, Sept. 17, in New York City. Jones will be reading her work, along with the other winners of the 2015 Rona Jaffe Award, on Sept. 18 at New York University.

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