The West Virginia Library Commission is hoping folks across the state will read Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X. Walker’s book Affrilachia. The book is this year’s choice for the One Book, One West Virginia program.
During an appearance at the Martinsburg Berkeley County Public Library Wednesday morning Walker read Clifton 1, the first poem in the book. It tells the story of Walker and his father visiting Clifton, Ky., where his father grew up.
Walker’s parents divorced when he was about four. Walker, who is director of the African American and Africana Studies Program at the University of Kentucky, told the small audience gathered at the library that he was a teenager before he started to get to know his father well.
Walker grew up in Danville, one of 11 children raised primarily by their mother in a home in the projects, where religion and reading were emphasized. All this is reflected in Affrilachia.
“So in that poem you can hear my mother’s influence, the choir singing songs, that personal family history with the divorce and still trying to find a way to make it work,” Walker said. “That reverence for the land and this special place that was not just about land was also about water because he grew up in a place called Clifton that was at the edge of a cliff and that water was the dividing line to the next county.”
“Interesting enough the other county was the official demarcation line for Appalachia,” he said.
An old black and white photograph of Walker’s parents standing in front of a car with two of his sisters graces the book’s front cover. Walker is in the photo, barely, his hand, tinted in red, sticks out from behind one sister. He said it’s the only photo he has of his parents together.
Susan Hayden, West Virginia Library Commission adult services consultant, said everyone in West Virginia is encouraged to read Affrilachia this year.
“We want to just imagine how wonderful it would be if everyone in the state read a really wonderful book and to have a fabulous conversation about it and the connections you would make with your community members and that’s the goal of One Book One West Virginia,” Hayden said.
Hayden said for the past few years One Book, One West Virginia has collaborated with Shepherd University’s Appalachian Writer in Residence program to select a book. While Affrilachia is rooted in Walker’s Kentucky upbringing, Hayden believes West Virginians can relate to the messages it conveys.
“I think it speaks of humanness, I think it speaks to our creativity, our joys and love but hardships, our pain,” she said. “I think its universal, it talks not only to a Black Appalachian, a Black West Virginian, but also all the other races in West Virginia, its universal.”
Walker said he’s flattered that his book was chosen.
“I think that it says more about what our two states have in common,” he said. “About what the region has in common, and about this singular idea behind Affrilachia, that it kind of forces people who have accepted the stereotypes and the caricatures to really rethink what they believe and really know about the region.”