Thursday, September 26, 2002

'Affrilachian' writers to congregate here

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “... yet still feeling complete and proud/
        that some of the bluegrass is black...”

        Frank X. Walker gets credit for coining the word “Affrilachian” a decade ago. He was attending a Southern Writers conference in Lexington where the only African-American (and non-Kentuckian) among the invited authors was Nikky Finney.

        Danville, Ky., native Mr. Walker, an artist, arts administrator and activist, looked up the definition of “Appalachian” in his dictionary. He read that Appalachians are “white residents of the mountainous regions of Appalachia” and, says Mr. Walker, “I knew I could never be a part of that great body of work.”

        Then he asked himself what the face of Appalachia was. He saw many commonalities. Appalachians of Kentucky share a heritage of tobacco, horses and bourbon, of love for land and family. They share the concerns that come with everything that is living and dying. But there are differences, too: in political views, urban Appalachian experiences, in a strong awareness of spirituality.

    Today: 7 p.m. screening of Coal Black Voices, Ninth Street United Methodist Church, 16 E. Ninth St., Covington. $5.
    Friday: 6 p.m. lecture, “The Africa We Live: Cultural Continuities from Africa to the Americas,” by C. Daniel Dawson, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 144 Buttermilk Pike, Lakeside Park. Free.
    Saturday: 2 p.m., roundtable discussion of “The Role of Poetry, Language and Community in Times of Unrest” featuring, among others, Mr. Dawson, Mr. Walker, Gurney Norman, Crystal Wilkinson and Fred Johnson. Ninth Street United Methodist Church. Free.
    Saturday: 7 p.m., poetry readings and book signing by the Affrilachian Poets followed by a performance by IsWhat?!, Ninth Street United Methodist Church. $5.
        So Mr. Walker created a word that is more relevant to the Appalachian experience today. What began as a word has become a literary movement filled with powerful voices, whether their writing is personal or political.

        “Indaba: Days of Coal Black Voices” brings together Affrilachian poets, historians, filmmakers and scholars for a three-day conference centered around Media Working Group's new hour-long documentary Coal Black Voices. It debuts tonight at Covington's Ninth Street United Methodist Church.Produced by Jean Donohue and Fred Johnson, Voices was three years in the making. “These poets have been having a remarkable impact on the regional culture,” Ms. Donohue says.

        “They address real issues — family, community, race, food, land, grandparents, things all people can relate to. What's familiar and funny allows us to hear the harder things, invites conversations we don't get to have.”

        As much a celebration as a conference, Indaba will include: a lecture by C. Daniel Dawson, expert on the influence of the African diaspora on American popular culture; a roundtable discussion; hip-hop and jazz by IsWhat?!; and a reading by some of the poets featured in Coal Black Voices, including Mr. Walker, Ms. Finney, Crystal Wilkinson, Kelly Norman Ellis, Bernard Clay, Ricardo Nazario-Colon and Shanna Smith.

        “... I do so love the black and brown
        on red, white and blue.”


        Ms. Finney is a founding member of Affrilachian Poets and an associate professor of creative writing at University of Kentucky. The soul of her writings, she has said, is born of growing up with parents, an elementary school teacher and Civil Rights attorney, who were deeply involved in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

        Ms. Finney received the Pen American Open Book Award for Rice, published in 1995. The book of poems chronicles her growing up African-American in a small South Carolina town.

        She is working on a poetry collection, The World Is Round, and Frogmarch, her first novel.

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