8 collections of Afrilachian poetry that must be on your TBR


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In a literary landscape that still too often assumes that Appalachian means white, the Afrilachian Poets collective proves just as vital to American literature today as it was when it was founded thirty years ago.

When Frank X Walker noticed that Nikki Finney was the only black writer invited to read at an Appalachian writers conference, he looked up the definition of Appalachian in the dictionary, which defined Appalachians as white people from the area. . From there, Walker coined the term “Afrilachian” to represent the unique experience of African Americans in Appalachia. He also co-founded the Afrilachian Poets collective, which still produces some of the best poetry in the region.

Comprising members like National Book Award-winning author Nikki Finney and poetry legend Nikki Giovanni, Afrilachian poets represent a powerhouse of literary talent. Each writer brings their own unique experience to the page, creating poetry and prose that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Les Poètes Afrilachiens emerged as a place that gives writers a chance to feel fully seen. Since its inception, the organization has welcomed dozens of members into the fold, ensuring that future generations of Afrilachian poets also have a dedicated space to work on their writing.

Black Bone: 25 Years of the Afrilachian Poets edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Jeremy Paden

In 2017, the Afrilachian Poets collective released a 25-year anniversary anthology, featuring dozens of poems from across the years. If you are just beginning to immerse yourself in the wonder that is Afrialchian poetry, black bone is a great place to start. Many of the poets featured in the collection also have complete poetry collections, giving you a great reading list.

A graphic of the cover of Afrilachia by Frank X Walker

Afrilachia by Frank X Walker

In this seminal collection of Afrilachian poetry, Frank X Walker includes poems that speak to the experiences of black Americans living in Appalachia. Some poems feature scenes inspired by his childhood, while others examine his present, always returning to the question of what it means to be Black in Appalachia.

A graphic of the cover of Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson

Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson

Current Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson has released her first comprehensive poetry book, perfect black, which features poems that often draw on Wilkinson’s own life. Wilkinson’s collection also includes prose poems, including one that sheds light on the eating habits of the women in his family. If you love Wilkinson’s poetry, you should also check out his prose, including his novel The Birds of Opulence.

A graphic of the cover of Valley Girl by Crystal Good

Valley Girl by Crystal Good

Crystal Good’s first book of poetry valley girl is a beautiful look at black femininity. She uses empty space and font size to create her poetry, adding layers of depth to her work. Recently, Good founded black by goda black-focused publication from West Virginia, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already!

A graphic from the cover of English Lit by Bernard Clay

Enlightened English by Bernard Clay

Years of preparation English literature includes poetry from several stages of Clay’s life, allowing readers to follow his subtly changing style of poetry throughout the collection. Often focusing on themes of being an urban Afrilachian, Clay examines what it means to be a black man in Kentucky.

A graphic of the cover of Make Me Rain by Nikki Giovanni

make me rain by Nikki Giovanni

Yes, star poet Nikki Giovanni is also a member of the Afrilachian poet collective. You can start anywhere with his work, but I’ll just mention his most recent collection, make me rain, which included both poetry and prose. One of my favorite podcasts, Black in Appalachiareleased a fabulous interview with Nikki Giovanni that you won’t want to miss.

A graphic of the cover of Appalachian Elegy by bell hooks

Appalachian Elegy by bell hooks

The late Bell Hooks, a proud Kentuckian, may be known around the world for her writing on feminism and civil rights, but her poetry is just as powerful. In Appalachian Elegyshe reflects on her Appalachian roots, pointing out that the region too often ignores the contributions and role of black people in Appalachian history.

A graphic from the cover of Horsepower by Joy Priest

Power by Joy Priest

This collection of poetry grabs you from the first page. It features a mixed-race narrator raised by the white side of her family, including her white supremacist grandfather. Churchill Downs, Kentucky, one of the nation’s most famous horse trails, looms in the background as the narrator navigates the youth of the urban south.

These titles represent just a few of the incredible works of the writers of the Afrilachian Poets collective, but they highlight the immense range of talents of its members. Whichever collection you decide to choose, you are sure to find something wonderful!


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