Get your own Magic City Poetry Festival t-shirt at any of this year’s event.

Since last year’s inaugural Magic City Poetry Festival founder Ashley M. Jones has been busy. She’s been busy publishing her second book, dark / / thing, which she describes as “a book that can’t sit silently.”

Ashley, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award recipient who also won the silver medal in poetry in the 2017 Independent Publishers Book Awards for her debut collection Magic City Gospel, has also been busy planning this year’s Magic City Poetry Festival.

The 2019 festival will kick off April 4 and host events throughout the month including a reading by poetry legend and Birmingham native Sonia Sanchez!

Ashley started the Magic City Poetry Festival to help showcase the talent of Birmingham-based poets and to expose more people to the power of poetry. See Jane Write had a chat with Ashley recently to discuss how this year’s festival will do just that.

A Sonia Sanchez/Magic City Poetry Festival fan? Yes, please!

Sonia Sanchez will be reading at the festival this year! How did this come about?

So, the story of bringing Sonia back home is one totally coated in magic. My involvement with Sonia began before I ever met her, way back as an undergraduate student at UAB, doing summer research with Dr. Jacqueline Wood. Dr. Wood is a leading Sanchez scholar, and I assembled a bibliography of over 1,000 entries of primary sources about Sonia for Dr. Wood’s biography project. I never thought twice about ever meeting her because she’s famous, and you rarely meet famous foremothers. But! In 2018, I was fortunate enough to have won 2nd place in the Split This Rock Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Prize, which Sonia judged. I met her in DC at the Split This Rock Contest, and after that, she agreed to write a blurb for my book. On one of our phone calls, she mentioned wanting to get back to Birmingham—back home. I asked if she might want us to bring her here, and here we are!

Why do you feel she’s a great poet to headline this year’s festival?

Sonia is a wonderful poet to headline this year’s festival for so many reasons. For one, she is prolific, accomplished, and respected—and she’s from Birmingham! The Magic City Poetry Festival seeks to celebrate our community and what better way than to celebrate someone who came from these very streets and has made it around the world. At this time in our country, too, we need to remember the ways in which artists were activists, the ways in which we could fight oppression on the streets and in the classroom. Sonia did both throughout her career. It is, literally, because of her work that I’m able to be a political poet and hold down an academic job, simultaneously. That wasn’t accepted when Sonia was working at universities, and she experienced hardship because of it. Her work for freedom and Black liberation made so many of us possible.

Can you tell us more about the Sonia Sanchez documentary that will be screening at the festival?

The film we’ll be screening on Sunday, April 14 at 4 pm at the Homewood Public Library chronicles Sonia’s career and shows some of the history behind her groundbreaking activist and poetic work. If you want to see who Sonia is, what she’s done, and what light she continues to create, you want to come watch this film with us.It’s free, as are all events at the MCPF. We don’t believe in creating monetary barriers for community programming, and this is no exception!

What is the biggest lesson you learned from hosting last year’s festival? 

I think, beyond learning how exhausting it is to put on a poetry festival, I learned how supportive the Birmingham community is. And I don’t just mean the literary community—I mean the whole community, poets or not. Last year, we had people happily coming together to hear or share poetry, to participate in community conversations, to celebrate being in Birmingham and loving art and people. It was incredible! I also learned that it is OK to ask for help, to take naps, and to hide in the back of your own event just to preserve some of your introverted energy.

How will this year’s festival be different from last year’s? 

This year’s festival is bigger than last year’s, and it aims to reach more parts of the Greater Birmingham area. We want the city’s magic to be felt by everyone! We’ve taken what was a week of programming and expanded it to a month-long celebration with many types of events for everyone. If you like lecture/conversation, you’ll love our kickoff event which combines poetry with history in a remembrance of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We have a block party if you just want to dance. We have a documentary screening for the film and history buffs. We have Sonia Sanchez. We have poetry cocktails. We have a reading entirely in languages other than English. Anything you want, we’ve got it! You can find out more information about our events at

I understand you’ll be reading work from your new collection at the April 4 kickoff event. Tell us a bit more about your new book dark / / thing. 

dark / / thing is a book that can’t sit silently. It screams. This book was written, partially, during The Election Which We’d All Like To Forget, so there’s a certain fire in these poems that might not have been as present in my first book. This book talks about the experience of Blackness in and beyond Birmingham and the South; it talks about the many ways in which Black people are othered, and the ways in which we try to separate ourselves from that othering.

Related Reading: Poet Ashley M. Jones discusses her debut book “Magic City Gospel”

If people want to read their work at events how can they participate in open mic? 

The open mics are traditional in that they rely on signup on-site. So, get to the open mic early, put your name on the list, and get ready to share your work! There will be several opportunities for reading on the open mic, so make sure to visit the website to note when those are.

Learn more at