Lexington poet, author and teacher Frank X Walker has been named Kentucky's 2013-14 poet laureate. He is the first black writer to receive the honor.
Walker, who created the term "Affrilachia" to unify Appalachian and African-American culture and history, hopes to be a role model for kids from humble backgrounds.
"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," said Walker, 51, who is also the youngest Kentuckian to be named poet laureate. "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."
His appointment was announced by the Kentucky Arts Council on Thursday.
Walker, a Danville native, is the author of five collections of poetry and is an established playwright. An associate professor in the University of Kentucky's department of English, he is also the director of the African-American and Africana studies program and the head of the Affrilachian Poets movement.
As poet laureate, Walker will promote the literary arts through readings at meetings, seminars and conferences across the state throughout 2013-14.
He said he hopes to promote other Kentucky writers, specifically to advocate for requiring courses on Kentucky writers for students from elementary school to college.
Walker said he wants to point out that he "is not uncommon" and that there is a rich history of accomplished black writers in Kentucky who have made his work possible. Although he is the first black poet laureate in Kentucky, he said, "I don't want to be the last."
Lori Meadows, arts council executive director, said, "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."
Neil Chethik, director of Lexington's Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, said Walker is a good choice.
"It's a great day for Kentucky," he said. "Frank is one of the finest writers in the region, and he's a superb teacher as well. He makes writing fun and he makes literature accessible to everyone. He takes the intimidation out of it."
Walker has degrees from the University of Kentucky and Spalding University, as well as honorary doctorates from UK and Transylvania University.
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.
He will be formally named poet laureate at a ceremony in April. The position is appointed by the governor.
For more information about Frank X Walker, visit Artscouncil.ky.gov/kentuckyart/poet.htm.
KENTUCKY POETS LAUREATE
The position of Kentucky poet laureate was established in 1926 by an act of the General Assembly. Before 1990, poets laureate were appointed to lifetime terms by the legislature; at times, several people held the position simultaneously.
In 1990, new legislation was enacted to provide for the governor's appointment of a state poet laureate for a two-year term.
Here are the state's poets laureate and the years they were appointed or served. For more about the position, go to Artscouncil.ky.gov/Poet/Poet.htm.
1926: J.T. "Cotton" Noe
1928: Edward G. Hill
1942: Louise Phillips
1954: Edwin Carlisle Litsey and Jesse Hilton Stuart
1956: Lowell Allen Williams
1974: Lillie D. Chaffin (associate poet laureate)
1976: Sen. Tom Mobley
1978: Agnes O'Rear
1984: Soc Clay, Lee Pennington and Paul Salyers
1986: Dale Faughn, Jim Wayne Miller and Henry E. Pilkenton
1990: James H. Patton Jr.
1995-96: James Still
1997-98: Joy Bale Boone
1999-2000: Richard Taylor
2001-02: James Baker Hall
2003-04: Joe Survant
2005-06: Sena Jeter Naslund
2007-08: Jane Gentry
2009-10: Gurney Norman
2011-12: Maureen Morehead
2013-14: Frank X Walker
SOURCE: Kentucky Arts Council
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.