Campus News

Affrilachian Poet Brings Big Plans to UK

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 1, 2010)−Intense is the only speed that Frank X Walker knows.

The Affrilachian Poets cofounder and creator of the word "Affrilachia" is just settling into teaching Intro to Poetry and Advanced Affrilachian Studies in the University of Kentucky's Department of English, but he's far from settling down.

With over 20 readings scheduled around the country over the rest of the year, a book release and a play debut, the internationally renowned author still has to force himself to break from writing.

"Readings are a part of my job, community involvement is a part of my commitment to UK," he said. "I love doing that as much as teaching."

According to Walker, a self-proclaimed history buff, the writing always happens, whether it's words on the page or just shell of an idea in his mind. "The rest of this happens while I'm changing gears," he said.

Walker released his latest book of poetry, "I Dedicate This Ride," based on the life of black Hall of Fame jockey Isaac Murphy, on Sept. 17. Walker's play of the same name made its worldwide debut at Lexington Children's Theatre on Sept. 26.

"Literacy is expanding, and with Isaac Murphy, the first high profile athlete in Kentucky, we create a diverse opportunity for literacy through history and the social sciences," Walker explained. "There are so many parts of Lexington's past that people don’t know about."

For example, at the first Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were black. By 1902, there was one African American rider in the Derby.  

"African American jockeys dominated the sport and then they disappeared," said Walker. "Post Reconstruction was particularly violent in Kentucky, which corresponds to the disappearance of these jockeys. In one generation, they went from total domination to nothing."

"I Dedicate This Ride" is a part of Kentucky's new statewide literacy project as well, aptly titled: the Isaac Murphy Every Body Reads Project (IMEBRP).

In addition to his writing and community involvement, the multidisciplinary artist has quite a few plans for UK students, faculty and staff. This spring, he intends to hold a conference on diversity in Appalachia. "I want to break the stereotype and continue to redefine ethnicity in the region," he explained.

Walker will also continue to edit and publish PLUCK!, the new Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture; he's starting the conversation about an MFA program to be housed in the College of Arts and Sciences; and he's interested in getting Africana Studies and the African American Studies and Research Program to combine their scholarly efforts.

"UK has a totally different reputation that when I was here as an undergrad, and I want to contribute to the vision of UK down the road," Walker said. "This is where I want to be; there are so many opportunities here."

Do the UK students listening to this lauded and award-winning Kentucky writer each week recognize their good fortune? Walker just smiles. "I'll tell them, eventually."