Affrilachian: A History of the Word

Frank X Walker
Frank X Walker

In 1991, Frank X Walker, an experienced playwright and visual artist, and a budding poet, was confronted with the reality that Appalachian—according to Webster’s Dictionary—referred only to “white residents from the mountains.” As a native of Danville, Ky., he felt that, like his white peers, he too was creating the great shadow of the mountains—shouldn’t his work matter and be counted within Appalachian heritage? For Walker, this definition of Appalachian would not suffice. He created his own word that described people of African descent from the Appalachian region: Affrilachian. This new term would fight the stereotype of an all-white, poor Appalachia. He knew the 13-state expanse, reaching as far north as New York and into the deep south, included more than Kentucky, more than rural areas and more than one ethnicity. The word Affrilachian would, and still does, stand as a reminder of the region’s diversity.

Visit the Affrilachian Poets site for a full history and timeline of the Affrilachian movement.

Ellen Hagan

To Raise You, Daughter

By Ellen Hagan

so you have enough breath to keep from
drowning. limbs to swim, teach treading,
wailing below water, to swallow sea if urgent.
mark mississippi, ohio & hudson too, birth
seagulls on the grand concourse, any thing
extraordinary for mapping, direction, familiar.
for the sake of living things. you should know
how to grow tails & wings & triple tongues, teeth
& extra legs for outrunning, leap, for escape.
if you have to be dragon, so be it. cyclops too
& loch ness, big foot’s female counterpart, part
mermaid, lobster girl, medusa, fantasy, fiction
child. if you have to morph magic—i hope
i’ve taught you well—and how.

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer and educator. She lives and works in New York City.

Joy Priest

My Father Teaches Me About the Bees

By Joy Priest

before the scientists do. Our backyard
is his armchair. He rises from
the buried roots and tomato vines
to come see about us: Me, running. My honey-
dark baby sister—who I’ve just caught
stick-poking a hive stuck
to the side of our house—tangled
in my arms. He sees the world in us.
Knows the huge, abstract names
for emotions, when it comes to plants,
but not his own self. He stops me,
spins me nose-to-nose with him,
our top lips beaded with sweat. Says,
“What is it?!” “Bees!,” I squeak.
“BEES!” His eyes, erupt into a forest
fire: Don’t you know I am a bee. You: a bee!
they were surely saying. Today on a podcast
the entomologist says, honeybees are actually an invasive
species, in the sense that they don’t belong here… imported
by early European settlers, and—as he continues
talking about our solitary American
honeybee species brought over
for their weight in gold—
I want to hug my father, put an ear
to his hive-chest heart buzz. Whole ecosystems,
the country’s fauna, built through
our long blood. I want to listen
before it’s too late, remember always
what he said that day: “Don’t teach
your sister to fear the bees.”
How much fear sounds like destroy.

Joy Priest grew up in Louisville, KY. She is a 2019-20 poetry fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Princetown, Mass.

Frank X Walker


By Frank X Walker

once bloody ground
hunting Eden
for native tongues
apologetically eliminating buffalo
for sustenance
not sport or profit
or pleasure
un common wealth
repopulated with immigrants
and freedmen
who discovered black lung
was as indiscriminate
as calluses
& hunger
you remain north & south
interstate highways
your crucifix
blessing yourself with
64 and I-75
you have derbied
and dribbled yourself
a place in a world
that will not let you forget
co-Rupped basketball
your cash crop causes cancer
& the run for the roses
is only two minutes long
kin tucky
beautiful ugly
i too am of the hills
my folks
have corn rowed
laid track
strip mined
worshipped & whiskied
from Harlan to Maysville
old Dunbar to Central
our whitney youngs
and mae street kids
cut their teeth
on bourbon balls
and though
conspicuously absent
from millionaires row
we have isaac murphied
our way
down the back stretch
cassius clayed
our names in cement
we are the amen
in church hill downs
the mint
in the julep
we put the heat
in the hotbrown
gave it color
some of the bluegrass
is black

Frank X Walker Coined the term Affrilachian. He was the 2013 Poet Laureate of Kentucky.

Kelly Norman Ellis

Raised by Women

By Kelly Norman Ellis

I was raised by
Chitterling eating
Vegetarian cooking
Cornbread so good you want to lay
down and die baking
“Go on baby, get yo’self a plate”
Kind of Women.
Some thick haired
Angela Davis afro styling
“Girl, lay back
and let me scratch yo head”
Sorta Women.
Some big legged
High yellow, mocha brown
Hip shaking
Miniskirt wearing
Hip huggers hugging
Daring debutantes
“I know I look good”
Type of Women.
Some tea sipping
White glove wearing
Got married too soon
in just the nick of time
“Better say yes ma’am to me”
Type of sisters.
Some fingerpopping
Boogaloo dancing
Say it loud
I’m black and I’m proud
James Brown listening
“Go on girl shake that thing”
Kind of Sisters.
Some face slapping
Hands on hips
“Don’t mess with me,
Pack your bags and
get the hell out of my house”
Sorta women
Some PhD toten
Poetry writing
Portrait painting
“I’ll see you in court”
World traveling
Stand back, I’m creating
Type of queens
I was raised by women

Ellis is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing and Chairperson for the Department of English, Foreign Languages and Literatures at Chicago State University.


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