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Affrilachian and Appalachian Authors Share Talents

Eager to hear the words of regional authors, more than seventy people – writers, readers, students and faculty alike – attended Appalachian Heritage's inaugural Featured Authors reading on November 10. Acclaimed writers Jeff Mann, Crystal Wilkinson and Meredith Sue Willis shared prose and poetry with their appreciative audience.

(L-R) Meredith Sue Willis, Jeff Mann and Crystal Wilkinson

"We … have wanted for a long time to share with the campus community the joy we feel from being in such close touch with so many wonderful authors," said George Brosi, editor of Appalachian Heritage magazine. "I felt the event went splendidly."

"The new director of the Appalachian Center, Chad Berry, is a 'can-do' kind of guy, so when we mentioned having a little happening to celebrate the completion of each issue and our desire to invite the campus, he just jumped on it and made it happen."

Appalachian Heritage was founded in 1973. The literary magazine is published quarterly by Berea College through the Appalachian Center, and is edited by Brosi and a team of student workers. The magazine features prose, poetry, literary criticism, art and photography by a variety of people throughout the Appalachian region, and seeks to focus on established authors as well as offer an opportunity to new and exciting voices. Appalachian Heritage was the first publication to which now well-known author Silas House submitted work.

The reading featured three of the "Featured Authors" from 2006's four issues of Appalachian Heritage, with the exception of the late Mary Lee Settle. Spring 2006 issue's featured author, Crystal Wilkinson, was raised in Indian Creek, Ky., and currently lives in Lexington. A teacher, educator and Affrilachian writer, Wilkinson has previously published two collections of short stories: Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. She was the 2002 recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. Former assistant director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and former chair of the creative writing department for the Kentucky Governor School for the Arts, Wilkinson is currently a Visiting Professor at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky.

Jeff Mann, a native of West Virginia, was featured in Summer 2006. The openly gay Mann frequently uses his writing to address the complexity of being homosexual and Appalachian, and coined the term "mountaineer queer." He read selections from his book Loving Mountains, Loving Men, which tells the story of one man's struggle to stay true to his Appalachian roots as well as his identity as a gay man, as well as two volumes of his poems: On the Tongue and Bones Washed with Wine. Mann teaches literature and creative writing at Virginia Tech.

Meredith Sue Willis was featured in the Fall 2006 issue of Appalachian Heritage. She shared a chapter from one of her books, "Oradell at Sea." Willis is the author of numerous novels, short stories and juvenile fiction as well as instructional books for writers. She has garnered many honors throughout her career, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from West Virginia University. Her work was the subject of the Fourteenth Annual Emory & Henry Literary Festival in Emory, Va. She currently lives in New Jersey.

This was the first time that Appalachian Heritage had ever held a literary reading, but there are plans to make the event a tradition.

"We plan to have a reading for each quarterly issue of the magazine," Brosi reported. "The next one will probably be in February."

"We hope those in the audience came away with an appreciation for the impact that student labor can have on the public, the literary community and authors themselves. We hope they relaxed and enjoyed the event and found it stimulating and that they will follow the careers of these three fine writers from now on and check out our magazine to introduce themselves to additional good regional writers."

Along with the Appalachian Heritage reading, the Appalachian Center also co-sponsored an appearance by Affrilachian poet Frank X Walker on November 8. Walker is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets group, and is the originator of the word “Affrilachia” to convey the fact that African Americans are a significant part of the predominantly white field of Appalachian literature.

"It's always good to be here at Berea," said Walker. "It always feels like home." He read numerous poems from his current work-in-progress, a collection called When Winter Comes. The book is a sequel to Buffalo Dance, Walker's collection of poems based on York, the slave that accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition of discovery. Because the Berea audience was the first to hear the new pieces, Walker solicited comments and feedback from the audience.

Walker started his second York project, which is "bigger and broader than Buffalo Dance," after meeting some of York's Nez Perce descendants and hearing their verbal history. He decided that he wanted to cover the other side of York's story and let readers hear from the voices of other people (and objects) in York's life. Walker also wanted to show a more bitter, post-expedition York who came back from his travels only to find himself in the same position of slavery as before.

"My mother always used to say 'there's two sides to every story – and then there's the truth,'" said Walker.

Walker is currently editing a literary journal called PLUCK! Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture, due out in spring 2007. "Poetry is still the stepchild of literature," says Walker, but he is doing his part to expand poetry's influence. Walker is also serving as Visiting Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and Communication at Transylvania University in Lexington.

The Appalachian Heritage reading was co-sponsored by the Appalachian Center and the Department of English, Theatre and Speech Communication; Frank X Walker's reading was sponsored by the Appalachian Center, Black Cultural Center and African and African American Studies.

Books from the above authors can be found in the Berea College campus bookstore. Issues of Appalachian Heritage are available at the Appalachian Center. Call (859) 985-3699 or (859) 985-3140 for more information.

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