FIU Master of Fine Arts alumna Ashley Jones MFA ‘15 has been recognized as one of the country’s outstanding, emerging women writers.
She is among six writers selected to receive a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. It is the only national literary awards program of its kind dedicated to identifying and supporting women writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers.
“It feels amazing. I still can’t really believe I’m one of the six women who were honored this year,” Jones said. “Winning this award is validating. As a writer, sometimes you feel all alone in your efforts. You’re literally alone at the typewriter, or computer or journal page, and even if you’re in an MFA program or writing group, you never really know if your work will mean something to someone or reach anyone at all. This shows me that I’m doing the right thing with my life.”
Jones received a $30,000 grant from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, which she will use to do creative writing outreach in her native Birmingham, Ala. She will also finish her first book, Magic City Gospel. The collection of poetry explores history, identity, religion, race and gender through different moments and milestones of her life. According to Jones, it also explores how she fits into a national history and a fractured present in America. In the poem “The History Books Have Forgotten Horace King,” Jones works through the ways in which history often focuses on the stories of white men, leaving out the stories of women and people of other races and socioeconomic backgrounds. In “Teaching J to Read,” she examines the educational disparity in America through her experience as an elementary school tutor struggling to teach a fifth grader how to read.
“I write to cope and to understand, so a lot of the pieces are just my attempts to get through certain realities,” Jones said. “With these poems, I’m spreading the gospel of my city, of its history, and of an America that is fractured, but can be united if we can start the right conversations and listen to what’s being said.”
Jones earned a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As a graduate student at FIU, she was recognized with an FIU Knight Creative Writing Fellowship and McNair Graduate Fellowship. She is currently working as a creative writing faculty member at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Jones wants to be a model for young minority writers and show them that their writing can be political and tell important stories without compromising literary merit.
“I am so proud of Ashley’s accomplishments. I knew she’d go on to do great things in literature, but I never dreamed it would be so soon four months after graduating,” said Denise Duhamel, creative writing professor in the FIU Department of English and Jones’ mentor. “Ashley’s poems are not only wonderfully crafted and complex, but they are also voicing race identity in a way that I believe only Ashley’s generation can. I learned things about the world through her poems.”