Walker's book focuses on slave with Lewis and Clark expedition

January 26, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Despite the fact that he is getting ready to be quite busy, Frank X Walker is unfailingly gracious, even when a reporter mistakenly calls his latest volume, titled "Buffalo Dance," by the title of a 2003 film, "Buffalo Soldiers." He simply extracts a promise that "Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York" will be referred to as such.

And he adds that he is a "big fan of the buffalo soldiers."

Walker kicks off a publicity tour for his newest volume, "Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York," Thursday at Danville High School. Over the next three months, he'll travel around Kentucky as well as to several other states promoting the book about the Lewis and Clark expedition. It is written from the perspective of William Clark's slave, York.

Walker says his interest in York stems "partially out of embarrassment."

"Having run two university cultural centers that focused on African American history (University of Kentucky's MLK Cultural Center and Purdue University's BCC), having spent enough time in school to be considered educated, and to still know so little about York and his contributions to history was embarrassing to me," says Walker, a Danville native who lives in Louisville. "After discovering, while conducting the research for this project, that he'd actually spent some time in Danville, was the point of no return for me. I knew at that point that I wanted and needed to know everything about him and that I wanted to share that information. And after finding so little information, I was committed to filling in the gaps.


"I believed poetry was the best genre to complete the task because via the persona poems, I could recreate York's thoughts, feelings, wishes, hopes, dreams and fears. I believed that this information would help make him come alive to readers."

Walker says the "X" in his name signifies the unknown, as with Malcolm X's name.

"As in the tradition of conducting one's family genealogy and being unable to determine the actual original African ancestry," he explains. "'Frank X' was also the nickname my college friends gave me, because they thought I looked like Malcolm when I wore my glasses, and it also represented my politically active undergraduate experience. I actually had my name legally changed from my birth name, which was also my father's name."

He tends to focus on family, identity, place and social justice

Walker says he tends to "focus on family, identity, place and social justice issues" in his writing.

"Because those are the things that are most important to me as a writer and artist," he explains. "They are also the things that allow my work and poetry in general to be universal and appreciated by individuals who don't look like me."

Walker says he hope readers of "Buffalo Dance" develop "a greater appreciation for history and art and what can happen when the two overlap."

"I hope readers can get past the fictional elements and focus on the historical spine of the book and take a broader interest in the expedition and its national commemoration some 200 years after the original journey," explains Walker, who is vice president of the Kentucky Center and executive director of the Governor's School for the Arts. "I hope readers can find a balance for what they learn about history and the potential appreciation for the book as a collection of poetry.

"Another thing I want people to get from reading the book is that the book is really a book about words and writing, about literacy and storytelling."

Walker says the book currently on his nightstand is "Black London," a book about the history of African descendants in England. And following the thread of literacy, "Buffalo Dance" is being used as a family literacy project locally.

J.H. Atkins, overseer of diversity education and associate professor of education at Centre College, and Walker have been working together to get "Buffalo Dance" into the community and schools to increase awareness of Kentucky literature and authors, inspire young writers, stimulate reading and discussion amongst different ages and strengthen a sense of community. Walker says the "Buffalo Dance" efforts isn't the first time Atkins and Walker have collaborated.

"He wanted to bring me to Centre to read to kick off the book tour and to present at the Heritage Festival almost a year ago," Walker says. "As we began exchanging details regarding the reading via e-mail, the idea of the family literacy project came up and immediately exploded with responses from Centre's faculty.

"Mr. Atkins was one of my middle school teachers, so he takes personal credit for anything I've accomplished academically," he adds.

He is the author of numerous volumes

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