Episode #104 | First Aired: February 5, 2008
[Editor’s note: In August 2016 the writers/poets collective was recognized with the Community Arts Award from the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. Read a statement issued by the group regarding the award.]
“One of the things I’ve encountered traveling outside the state of Kentucky is having to defend the fact that people of color actually live here, and a lot of the work speaks to that specifically: that not only are we here, we’re here in a big way. We’re part of Kentucky’s history; we’re part of the landscape,” says Frank X Walker, one of the “Affrilachian” poets featured in the documentary “Coal Black Voices.”
Debunking the stereotype of Appalachia as a whites-only culture was one of the purposes behind the adoption of the term “Affrilachian” in 1991 by Walker and other Kentucky African-American poets. In “Coal Black Voices,” these talented Kentucky writers offer intimate insights into life in Appalachia and the American South through poems, stories, and images. Their works celebrate their rural roots while drawing upon traditions such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts movement, and experiences of the African diaspora.
Ten writers are featured in the program: Walker, Nikki Finney, Crystal Wilkinson, Kelly Norman Ellis, Ricardo Nazario-Colon, Paul C. Taylor, Bernard Clay, Mitchell L.H. Douglas, Daundra Scisney-Givens, and Shanna Smith. They read works that are both personal and political, giving voice to the pleasures of such universal topics as land, family, food, community, art, and transformation while encompassing themes of racism and black identity. “The idea to call someone an Affrilachian instead of an Appalachian is the first step into the realm of the Affrilachian poet, and it’s a political step,” Taylor explains in the documentary. “All of us write very personal things; all of us write things about family, about eating, about sex, about love, about dying, and none of that is ever very far away from the political circumstances under which all of those human experiences take place.”
“Coal Black Voices” is presented as a Kentucky Muse Encore Presentation. Released in 2001, the documentary was produced by Jean Donohue and Fred Johnson of Media Working Group, with Walker as consulting producer. “Coal Black Voices” was produced with support from the KET Fund for Independent Production, the Wexner Center Media Arts Program, Ohio State University, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Ohio Arts Council, the Kentucky Humanities Council, the Ohio Humanities Council, and Media Working Group.