The Appalachian Voice

Affrialachia Magazine Showcases Poetry

For well over a century now, Appalachia has been categorically reduced by many outsiders and insiders alike to include only white Scots-Irish descendants, with a few Native Americans thrown in for political correctness. The rich ethnic diversity that actually exists doesn’t jive with people’s stereotypes of the region, much less their jokes. Fortunately, however, many Appalachians are addressing this ethnic blindness through creative means. One such effort includes Frank X Walker’s formation of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture. Using part of the $75,000 Lannan Foundation literary prize he was awarded in 2005, Walker launched the inaugural issue of Pluck in April of this year. The name of the journal is derived from a poem by Nikki Finney, a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. The journal’s mission is to showcase and celebrate a plethora of ethnic voices of the mountains through poetry, prose, song, and scholarship.
For well over a century now, Appalachia has been categorically reduced by many outsiders and insiders alike to include only white Scots-Irish descendants, with a few Native Americans thrown in for political correctness. The rich ethnic diversity that actually exists doesn’t jive with people’s stereotypes of the region, much less their jokes. Fortunately, however, many Appalachians are addressing this ethnic blindness through creative means. One such effort includes Frank X Walker’s formation of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture. Using part of the $75,000 Lannan Foundation literary prize he was awarded in 2005, Walker launched the inaugural issue of Pluck in April of this year. The name of the journal is derived from a poem by Nikki Finney, a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. The journal’s mission is to showcase and celebrate a plethora of ethnic voices of the mountains through poetry, prose, song, and scholarship.
In the inaugural issue readers enjoy poetry from both renowned and emerging poets, poets such as Patricia Smith in the former category and Jude McPherson in the latter. While some poems deal with traditional Appalachian issues like coal mining, others exalt the exquisite connection between women and rivers or defy racial discrimination. Article topics range from an overview of the Affrilachian literary tradition and serious juvenile offenders learning to write their stories, to the hip hop culture in West Virginia, which is alive and thriving. Future issues of Pluck will include the voices of Cherokee Appalachians in poetry and prose, a discussion with Arab Appalachian, Dr. Steven Salaita, and his relationship with the region, and spotlights on various Affrilachian painters inspired by both African and Appalachian traditions.
The managerial and editorial staff of Pluck mirrors the mission of the journal with folks like Ricardo Nazario Colon, Hispanic Appalachian, serving as Advertising Manager. Fiction writer and Affrilachian Poet, Crystal Wilkinson, who has published two collections of short stories, serves as Fiction Editor. And Chief Editor and Publisher, Frank X Walker, makes explicit his desire to provide a forum and develop a community of readers for all ethnicities represented in Appalachia. He wants to attract people “who are investing their time, energy, and money in seeking common ground not isolationist principles.” In part, Walker proclaims, “This community is multi-ethnic, broad-minded, politically active, and culturally aware. It is socially and environmentally conscious.” Walker is well on his way toward realizing such a noble and necessary goal for Appalachia with the birth of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture.

What is Affrialachia?

Frank X Walker credits a specific night in 1991 as a turning point in his life. After attending a literary event on the University of Kentucky campus, Walker wondered why the organizers changed the title of the reading from “The Best of Appalachian Writing” to “The Best of Southern Writing” when Coastal Carolinian Geechee writer, Nikky Finney, joined the panel. Walker knew writers of color hailed from Appalachia so he pondered why they weren’t represented. The happenings of this night culminated into an anger and frustration that more than likely started earlier in his life. Walker had grown angry about the exclusion of people of color in the annals of Appalachian culture and history. He had tired of blacks’ exclusion from the region’s literature. Therefore, later that night, Walker channeled his emotions into a positive creativity. Gurney Norman, Appalachian scholar and literary guide to Walker and others, explains simply that a “synapse fired in Frank’s brain.” As a result, the word “Affrilachia” was born.
Perhaps with a bit of irony, Nikky Finney became an Affrilachian Poet after Walker initiated poetic dialogue among other writers of color living in Appalachia. Yet this speaks to the fluidity of the term and Walker’s insistence on its inclusive nature. Writers of color who are identified as Affrilachian writers may not have been born in the region but instead found their way here later in life. Though the term is specifically derived from a melting of African American with Appalachian—the double Fs in Affrilachia reflecting the double Ps of Appalachia—members are not necessarily African American. In fact, Hispanic writer Ricardo Nazario Colon is a founding member of the Affrilachian poets. Walker and Colon began their own poetic dialogue in the elevator of the Martin Luther King Center on UK’s campus when both were students there. Because it wasn’t “cool” for young dudes to be writing and reading poetry, the two would meet clandestinely to share their work and provide both critique and encouragement. Fortunate for the Appalachian literary tradition, however, Walker and Colon did not remain tucked away in an elevator. They, and the rest of the Affrilachian Writers, have exploded onto the scene, publishing book after book of poetry and prose, scheduling event after event of readings and literary celebrations. And though people of color have always been present in Appalachia, beginning with the Native Americans, the region grows richer with the explicit recognition of the Affrilachians amongst us.

Posted: September 10, 2007

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