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Frank X Walker: Exemplar of Affrilachia

From: Appalachian Heritage
Volume 39, Number 4, Fall 2011
pp. 21-25 | 10.1353/aph.2011.0109

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Frank X Walker is perhaps most well known for his role in co-founding the Affrilachian Poets, an enclave of writers of color rooted in the Appalachian Region. The term “Affrilachia” was originally coined by Walker, and, as a cultural landscape, has become integral to his identity as a multidisciplinary artist and arts enthusiast; a forum which has the ability to render the invisible visible. Beyond this significant contribution to our nation’s literary legacy, Walker’s own roots have forged an extraordinary poetic voice and instilled an ability to create symbiotic relationships in a myriad of artistic communities.

Frank X Walker was born on June 11, 1961 in Danville, Kentucky, the eldest or second eldest of ten children (depending on who you ask in the sibling lineup). His mother, Faith Annette Smith, was his first, and perhaps most important, creative influence. A Pentecostal minister and regular participant in church activities at the Green Street Church of God, she frequently utilized her creativity applying ample culinary skills, composing children’s plays during holidays, and fashioning a spectrum of garments ranging from stuffed animals out of scrap fabric to elaborate wedding gowns.

Walker also credits his father, Frank Walker, Sr., with an element of his creativity. Walker, Sr., would recycle discarded television sets and similar electronic devices and was known to build antique furniture miniatures. Although his father may not designate his own skills as artistic, per se, Walker remembers how he always kept his hands busy in the tradition of the adage, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

Walker grew up in both McIntyre Homes and Crescent Drive, adjacent housing projects, and can recall several youthful haunts: the Book-Mobile, and later the Boyle County Library, Burkes Bakery, Jackson Park, and Admiral Stadium where he worked his first job landscaping the football field he would eventually play on.

As a youth, Walker was a voracious reader and could be found at an early age decorating school bulletin boards, fashioning lost-and-found boxes, building shoebox dioramas, and painting holiday themed windows at the local ice-cream shop. A self-proclaimed nerd and athlete, a thick-lensed young Walker eventually played the “speed” positions on his high-school football team, was elected as class president twice, and belonged to several school clubs.

A first generation college student, Frank’s college career began when an engineering representative from UK recruited him directly out of high school. After re-routing degrees, he eventually took a writing class with Gurney Norman, and, lured by his first publishing experiences, graduated with a degree in English, but felt that his time in other departments helped inform his passion for the literary arts. During this time, Walker worked as the Program Director for the Martin Luther King Cultural Center from 1985 to 1995.

Frank’s middle initial originally came from college friends, and he used the “X” when he first started creating literary work to keep his literary identity separate from that of his visual art. Eventually, Walker’s personal politics drew him to making a legal change. His administrator career blossomed during time spent hosting workshops with the Living Arts and Science Center and planning events during the early years of the Roots and Heritage Festival. He served as founder, director, and house playwright for the Bluegrass Black Arts Consortium, a unique enclave of multidisciplinary artists in the state which boasted collaborations between visual artists, musicians, dancers, a theater troupe, and writers on Main Street in Lexington next to the Kentucky Theater.

In 1991, Walker coined the word that would lead to co-founding an enclave of multicultural writers who represent the Appalachian Region. That year, a reading dubbed “The Best of Southern Writing” in Lexington, Kentucky, featured four authors from the Bluegrass State and poet Nikky Finney, a South Carolina native. The original title of the event, “The Best of Appalachian Writing,” had been altered to accommodate Finney, who is African-American, and the sole voice of color in the lineup. Walker knew African-American writers from Kentucky should have been represented and felt the name change from “Appalachian” to “Southern” required an explanation. Walker found a definition of “Appalachian” in the Webster Dictionary...



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