Frank X Walker
Frank X Walker is the first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate. He coined the word Affrilachia to name the presence and contribution of African Americans in Appalachia. He co-founded the organization, Affrilachian Poets and is the founding editor of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture.
Walker is the author of ten collections of poetry including Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York and Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers. In these and other works, Walker has brilliantly and poetically contributed to the unforgetting of Black presence, complexity and contribution throughout history. His collection, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, was awarded the 2014 NAACP image award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. Evers may be one of the most neglected figures in civil rights history. Walker “unghosts” him through the voices of those who loved him and those who wished him dead. Buffalo Dance gives voice to York, the personal slave of Lewis and Clark. Winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award, Buffalo is described as “the rare blend of history and art.”
Walker is professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
This profile of the poet and editor includes another aspect of his creative interest—multimedia art. Commenting on his praxis he said:
As a writer and visual artist, I find collage allows me to say something and then say it again, but slant. ‘Putting something over something else’ as Bearden said, allows me the freedom to engage with text and image and paint in a way that hopefully allows the viewer/reader to be pulled into a conversation, and interactive dance in the original digital format in our heads and at something approaching cinema.”
Romare Bearden, Harlem Interior 1980
after Romare Bearden’s Harlem Interior, 1980
At the west end of Queen Street
next to the railroad tracks,
the McIntyre Homes projects
lean like a row of muddy brownstones,
built around a kitchen and living room too.
This way station, this unfiltered news graveyard,
an Epsom salt bath for domestic workers
—a pewless church,
is awash in an evening ritual:
a line of paper girls, backs pressed
to the spine of a wooden chair,
take turns being absolved.
Obedient heads bowed,
they enter the confessional
to have their hair redeemed.
Mama’s best friend, Sistah Kate,
flips through the Old Testament,
underlining scripture with a black ink pen
as they unravel newspaper headlines,
confirm the end of times
and double check prayer lists.
Mama is an upright humming
amen corner on tired feet. My sisters,
a tangle of knots and tears.
In this crucible, between each fine-tooth
comb part and generous dab of Blue Magic,
every problem in the world
these women can’t solve, tonight,
is placed Faith fully in God’s black hands.
Though Almost Passing, Your Black He(Art) Endures
...”Bearden leaves us with an impression, not a story—a place to start our inquiry—a beginning, not an end.”
—Stephanie Mayer Heydt
In the beginning was the image
and the image was Gawd.
But not the god of your reflection,
who could have passed as
a big-boned Michelangelo.
But a mountain south Gawd,
an Affrilachian Gawd, like your grannies.
Blue black like your ideal of beauty,
as African as your indigo soul.
Enthroned on their own porch,
watching over you
from the studio wall,
framed by their own lived church,
were a pair of Carolina-ripened
carved from the heart of ebony wood,
your grand people, your H.B. and Rosa,
reminding you of unspoken promises
to ‘Gene; to always remember
from whom you come,
to expect coal and diamonds
even from a brothel,
to draw on those memories,
and to look for your best self
in the faces of others.
Those sturdy black trees kept you
out of the sun’s glare
but not beyond its warmth.
They raised you to harvest
bushels of colors and lines and shapes,
to not just quilt you a world
but to transform it by conjuring
something over something else:
a strip of joy over a slice of depression,
a circular from Mecklenburg county
over a map of Pittsburgh,
Ashanti masks over magazine cut-outs,
steam powered locomotives
over cotton field regrets,
a dead best friend over barrelhouse blues,
—what you remember over what we forget,
and always the best in all of us
over all of you hallelujah hallelujah.
Gawd bless you black wallpaper Moses.
Frank X Walker reading his poems at the High Museum's Bearden exhibition.