LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 21, 2023) — The people and places of the Appalachian region have a rich history and culture. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the region spans north from New York, down the expansive mountain range as far south and west to Mississippi — with Kentucky in the middle. Many times, lost in the overall conversation of Appalachia are the hidden gems of Black Americans contributions to the region.
University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences English Professor Frank X Walker wanted to make sure the region’s Black history was acknowledged and documented. His journey began by coining the phrase "Affrilachia."
“Affrilachia is an idea grounded in inclusion that seeks to build bridges with everyone left out of a definition of Appalachia that requires whiteness for participation,” said Walker, who is also an affiliated faculty member at the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies at UK.
According to the latest Census data, the Appalachian region consists of just over 26 million people. Of that, 10%, or just over 2.6 million Black people, are scattered throughout the area — making this group the largest minority population in Appalachia.
It is the voices and accomplishments of Black Americans of Appalachia that Walker wanted to ensure were recognized and exalted. And for the first time in his writing career, he did so with a children’s book. Published by the University Press of Kentucky, “A Is for Affrilachia” is now available.
“This book is for everyone who doesn’t know how rich the region really is. And especially for anyone who ever heard and repeated the shallow caricatures and stereotypes that rendered non-white people invisible,” said Walker.
“A Is for Affrilachia” is a unique and engaging lesson of the “ABCs” — offering a rich display of regional, racial and cultural heritage through word and image. Walker says he wrote this children’s book not only to bring awareness of notable Black Americans from Appalachia, but to celebrate the people, physical spaces and historical events that may not be as well known in mainstream educational structures.
“I hope all readers experience a level of joy. I know they will learn many things about our shared histories that they didn’t already know. I hope all readers discover that it’s a multi-generational opportunity to learn, grow and to be led to a deeper exploration of the places, events, and people mentioned in the book,” explained Walker.
Illustrated by acclaimed artist upfromsumdirt (Ronald W. Davis), every image exudes vibrancy, beauty and whimsy as it depicts each of the alphabetized words alongside the appropriate letter. Featured are a range of musicians, artists and activists, as well as mountain ranges, literary works and coal mining implements. Famous names, such as playwright August Wilson, writer Nikki Giovanni, actor Chadwick Boseman and singer Nina Simone are spotlighted, as well as lesser-known individuals, such as artist Romare Bearden and musician Amethyst Kiah.
To help spread the important message of “A Is for Affrilachia”, the Steele-Reese Foundation has awarded the University Press of Kentucky with a grant to promote the diversity of the Appalachian region to children, students and educators. The grant will provide 2,000 free copies of Walker’s book to schools and public libraries in the Appalachian Regional Commission service area.
“A Is for Affrilachia” is now available for purchase.
As the campus community continues to celebrate Black History Month, readers are also invited to check out the new release “Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State: Revisiting My Old Kentucky Home”, edited by UK professor Gerald L. Smith.
The University Press of Kentucky offers 100+ titles on Black history and civil rights, as well as poetry and fiction, that give voice to the Black experience in Kentucky and beyond. For February, UPK’s Black history related titles will be 30% off.
About the University Press of Kentucky (UPK)
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From its offices on the UK campus, the press’s full-time staff publishes 50-55 titles per year in print and electronic formats. The press has 1,865 titles in print. UPK books are available through all major retail and wholesale channels, libraries and online platforms, both domestic and international.
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