Do Poetry & Theater Give Voice to Appalachia's 'Invisible' Populations?

Jun 30, 2017

writer and Kentucky native Crystal Wilkinson
Credit courtesy Crystal Wilkinson

Ever hear the word 'Affrilachian'? In the 1990s, a poet in Kentucky named Frank X Walker came up with the term. It refers to African Americans living in Appalachia. 

“To us it was about making the invisible visible, or giving voice to a previously muted or silenced voice,” Walker told the Appalachian Studies Association during its 2016 conference at Shepherd University.

Walker's word gave rise to a group of Affrilachian writers called The Affrilachian Poets, who write about social justice issues and support diversity in Appalachian literature. The group includes Kentucky writer Crystal Wilkinson.

“Any time that you can come across something that gives you a stronger sense of self identity that important to have. The name what we call ourselves is important,” Wilkinson told WMMT’s Kelli Haywood back in 2016.

“And it’s a sort of a back-straightening, empowering word that has long since gone on beyond his original intention. And I think that’s a wonderful thing, too," said Wilkinson.

We also hear from Affrilachian Poet Crystal Good. She writes about cultural identity in Appalachia, and about how the national media portrays Appalachians with negative stereotypes. Right after the 2014 election, Good shared a poem she’d written called “Appalachian Blackface” about how politics in Appalachia are so deeply rooted in coal.

The Struggle to Stay

Kyra Soleil-Dawe
Credit Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

And we also hear the next installment in The Struggle to Stay series. In this episode we meet 20-year-old Kyra Soliel-Dawe, an aspiring actor who has formed a small theater company in Shepherdstown. Kyra wants the company to be licensed and to be a sustainable business here in Appalachia. Part of Kyra’s struggle to stay rests on this dream. 

Music was provided by Marisa Anderson, Heroes are Gang Leaders, and Rhiannon Giddens, as heard on Mountain Stage.