Home » Frank X Walker named Kentucky’s first African-American poet laureate

Frank X Walker named Kentucky’s first African-American poet laureate

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 14, 2013) — Gov. Steve Beshear has appointed Lexington poet, author and teacher Frank X Walker as Kentucky poet laureate for 2013-14, the Kentucky Arts Council announced today. Walker, a native of Danville, will be formally inducted during a ceremony on Kentucky Writers’ Day, April 24, at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

Frank X Walker is Kentucky's first African American Poet Laureate.
Frank X Walker is Kentucky’s first African American Poet Laureate.

Walker is the author of five collections of poetry and is an established playwright. He currently serves as associate professor in the University of Kentucky Department of English and as director of the African American and Africana Studies program.

Walker is the state’s first African-American poet laureate, and the youngest Kentuckian to be given the honor.

“I hope I will have opportunities to be visible, to serve as a role model for kids who come from humble beginnings like I did,” said Walker, 51. “I want to remind them that books are important, developing and using their creativity is important. Everybody is creative, they just need the tools to harness and control their creativity. I grew up in the projects so I want to tell them ‘your circumstance is not an excuse.’ If you commit to something, if you work hard and have discipline, you can accomplish anything.”

The Kentucky poet laureate promotes the literary arts in Kentucky through readings of his work at meetings, seminars and conferences across the state. Since 1995, the position has been appointed by the governor and is coordinated by the state arts agency. Walker succeeds outgoing poet laureate Maureen Morehead.

“Frank X Walker’s deep roots in the Kentucky writing community and his contributions to the state’s rich literary history led to a new movement in the arts – one that defined and gave voice to a specific population of Appalachian residents,” Beshear said. “Our state and region are better for it. The commonwealth is fortunate to have a writer like Frank X Walker living and teaching within our borders, and I am proud to name him the commonwealth’s next poet laureate.”

Walker is known internationally for his unique approach to teaching and numerous literary accomplishments. Most famous among them is his creation of the word “Affrilachia,” a term that unifies Appalachian identity and the region’s African-American culture and history. The word Affrilachia is now included in the Oxford American Dictionary. Walker is a leader of the Affrilachian Poets literary movement that prides itself in giving voice to previously muted and silenced voices and promotes excellence in teaching, writing, art and activism.

“In time, Kentuckians will be able to look back on the work of Frank X Walker and see how it opened doors for the people of the commonwealth to actively participate in the arts,” said Lori Meadows, arts council executive director. “I congratulate Frank and look forward to seeing how his work as poet laureate will further inspire the next generation of Kentucky’s creative minds.”

A Lannan Poetry Fellowship Award recipient, Walker has degrees from the University of Kentucky and Spalding University, as well as honorary doctorates from UK and Transylvania University.

He has lectured, conducted workshops, read poetry and exhibited at more than 300 national conferences and universities including the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry, Northern Ireland. He has taught in Santiago, Cuba; at the University of California at Berkeley; Notre Dame; Appalachian State University and other institutions.

Walker has served as founder and executive director of the Bluegrass Black Arts Consortium and as the program coordinator of the University of Kentucky’s King Cultural Center.

He is the recipient of the 2006 Thomas D. Clark Literary Award for Excellence and an Actors Theatre of Louisville Keeper of the Chronicle Award. He has held board positions for the Kentucky Humanities Council, Appalshop and the Kentucky Writers Coalition, as well as a government appointment to the former Cabinet for Education, Arts and Humanities and the Committee on Gifted Education. He has served as vice president of the Kentucky Center for the Arts and the executive director of Kentucky’s Governor’s School for the Arts. He is a past recipient of an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council.

Walker’s sixth full collection of poetry, “Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers,” is due in the spring from the University of Georgia Press.

For more information about Frank X Walker, visit artscouncil.ky.gov/KentuckyArt/Poet.htm.