UK professor Walker named state poet laureate

By Melody Bailiff | @kykernel

Frank X Walker, a professor and alumni of UK, who coined the term “Affrilachia”, has been named Kentucky’s 2013-14 poet laureate.

Walker, director of the African-American and Africana Studies program at UK and associate professor in the Department of English, is the state’s first African-American poet laureate as well as the youngest at age 51. The poet laureate is selected by the state to compose poems for special events and occasions.

“I’m honored to be both the youngest and the first African American poet laureate. I’ve gotten a lot of congratulatory comments from people who really like what it says about Kentucky’s progress and how it challenges some of the caricatures about our state,” Walker said.

Walker coined the term Affrilachia when he noticed Webster’s dictionary defined an Appalachian as “a white resident from the mountains.”

Through his literature, Walker teaches that, contrary to popular belief, African-Americans contribute in many ways to Appalachian culture.

He says that when the significance of oral traditions, music, food, family and front porches in both the white and African-American Appalachian cultures are considered, there is not much separating the two.

Affrilachia is therefore “a way of thinking about the region with people of color in a way that challenges the definition that says you have to be white to be Appalachian,” Walker said.

Walker said he is always looking for ways to promote the celebration of Kentucky writers who historically have produced some amazing talent, such as William Wells Brown. Brown, who is a Lexington native, authored Clotel, the first novel written by an African-American.

“The reality is that a true definition of the region makes room for Pittsburgh and Birmingham and Harlan, Ky. and all the African-American history and culture in between. Bill Withers, Nina Simone, August Wilson and Nikki Giovanni and other important names should be spoken within the same breath as the litany of others that are always associated with the region,” Walker said.

Walker hopes that through his literature, college students will learn a lot of history they didn’t know, especially Kentucky history.

“It would be great if poetry taught them some of the bluegrass is black,” he said.

Walker will be formally inducted on Kentucky Writer’s Day at the Capitol Rotunda April 24.