This past semester, Tyrone Williams, chair of the department of English, received a Wheeler Academic Development Award, which supports improving academic programs. Williams is using the award this fall in his philosophy, politics and the public honors class, “Literature and the Moral Imagination,” when he brings in a guest speaker, “Affrilachian” poet Frank Walker. Here, he discusses the grant and the importance of “Affrilachian” poetry.
Explain a bit about the history of “Affrilachian” poetry and how you became interested in it.
The Wheeler Award was given to me to bring in the self-described “Affrilachian poet” Frank Walker from Lexington, Ky., to do a poetry reading in September for my English 205 class. “Affrilachian” is a term that Walker uses to describe poetry written by those of African descent who reside in rural and urban Appalachia. Nikki Finney is another poet who identifies herself as “Affrilachian.”
How does “Affrilachian” poetry apply to this class and what do you hope the students will take away from their study of it?
This particular section of Literature and the Moral Imagination is concerned with the beginnings of an African-American public in the 19th century. I hope the students will get a live example of how our understanding of the black public can be traced not only to well-known historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth but also to someone like York, the free black explorer who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famed Northwest expedition
Who is Frank Walker and what will his poetic focus be for the class?
Frank Walker is a poet, born in Danville, Ky., and now residing in Lexington. He teaches and reads at public schools and universities across the country. More information about him can be found at his web site, www.frankxwalker.com. I heard him at a poetry reading at the School for Creative and Performing Arts here in Cincinnati and invited him to read. His books of poetry are “Affrilachia,” “Black Box” and “Buffalo Dance, the Journey of York.” “York” concerns the black explorer who accompanied Lewis and Clark and since my course in the fall will focus on blacks in the public sphere in the 18th and 19th centuries, I thought Walker’s poetry would give the students a sense of what the public sphere may have been like for someone like York.