Introducing the Magic City Poetry Festival

Bringing poetry to the people

By Javacia Harris Bowser // Photo by Cathleen Chambless

Award-winning poet Ashley M. Jones was in graduate school at Florida International University studying creative writing when she was introduced to the O, Miami Poetry Festival, a renowned program that seeks to expose all Miami citizens to poetry through community events. Jones made it her goal to one day return to her hometown of Birmingham and start a poetry festival for the Magic City.

“Our citizens are just as interesting, just as artful as anybody else,” says Jones, who returned to Birmingham in 2015 to teach creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. “And it’s important to me as a Birmingham native to make Birmingham that world class city that I know it can be.”

Jones is finally making her dreams of a Birmingham poetry festival come true this year. The inaugural Magic City Poetry Festival is set for April 2-7, just in time for National Poetry Month.

Since returning to Birmingham Jones has made quite a name for herself. She was one of only six winners of the 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a prestigious award given annually to support emerging women writers with exceptional talent. Her debut poetry collection, Magic City Gospel, won the silver medal in poetry in the 2017 Independent Publishers Book Awards. She’s a board member of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, one of the sponsors of the Magic City Poetry Festival, and co-coordinator of the Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series.

“I could have just stayed in Miami and I probably would have done well in the poetry community there,” she says. “But I would rather come here and try to make it happen.”

The Magic City Poetry Festival will kick off with an opening mixer and open mic event on Monday, April 2 at Studio 2500 downtown with an opportunity to network with local writers and readings by local poets from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, Sister City Connection, and Real Life Poets, Inc.

The keynote event will be a panel discussion sponsored by PEN America—“50 Years Post-MLK: Media, the Magic City, and How the South Was Won.” Set for Wednesday, April 4 at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the discussion will feature writer Kiese Laymon and poet Jacqueline Trimble who will discuss the role the media has played in the representation or misrepresentation of Birmingham and the American South.

“The media had a lot to do with the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1965 because of the national coverage of the Birmingham Campaign of the Civil Rights Movement,” Jones says. But that same media has often held the South in “suspended animation” as we are often shown as “backwards and rigidly conservative.”

This panel discussion, which will take place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will tackle such questions as how the South can navigate these misrepresentations to make way for real progress and how can it serve as an example or a radar for our nation’s progress.

The closing event of the Magic City Poetry Festival, set for Saturday, April 7, will feature readings by several talented local poets including youth poets from the Woodlawn Writers Corps, Maria Vargas, Kwoya Fagin Maples, Tina Mozelle Braziel, Katherine Webb, Jason McCall, and Alabama State Poet Laureate Jennifer Horne. This event will be held at the Desert Island Supply Company, better known as DISCO, and will also give guests a chance to learn more about the programs DISCO offers for local students.

Jones hopes the Magic City Poetry Festival will boost both the creativity and confidence of local poets.

“I think sometimes you feel like you’re doing this in a vacuum by yourself or you keep seeing the same faces over and over again. So maybe it will validate us to feel like somebody else is interested in what we’re doing,” Jones says.

But she wants the festival to be just as enriching for people who don’t consider themselves poets. 

“For non-poets my goal is to show them that poetry is interesting,” she says. “I want to try to make it more fun and to show people that poetry can exist in every part of their life and it can be something that’s useful to them and not just something that you hate to study in school.” 

For more information on the Magic City Poetry Festival visit

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