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arts community events

Documentary screening, workshop and readings to focus on Affrilachian Poets

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A multievent program consisting of a screening, workshop, panel and poetry reading will highlight the works and culture of the Affrilachian Poets. It will span from Nov. 4-5. All events will be in the Cook Center in Maxwell Hall. 

The Affrilachian Poets are a group of poets and writers of color formed at the University of Kentucky in 1991, each having some link to the Appalachian area. According to the event description, their works mostly center around “family, identity, place, social justice, and/or history.” Additionally, the description reveals their main goal as a collective is to challenge the stereotypes formed around the Appalachian region. The Affrilachian Poets that will be featured throughout these events are Frank X Walker, Amy M. Alvarez, Mitchell L. H. Douglas, Kelly Norman Ellis and Lisa Kwong. 

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The screening event is on Friday at 6 p.m. and will feature the documentary “Coal Black Voices,” which the event description describes as disputing the “notions of an all-white Appalachian region and culture.” The documentary is a part of a series titled “Kentucky Muse,” which is a collection of documentaries highlighting the arts. 

The poetry workshop will take place at 9 a.m. on Nov. 5 and will be given by Walker, a former Kentucky Poet Laureate and Affrilachian Poets founder. The workshop will focus on the theme of “Poem as Photograph.” Participants are asked to bring their favorite photos and a handheld mirror for the workshop. 

The next event is the panel discussion, which will take place from 2 - 3:15 p.m. Saturday. In the panel, Kwong, an IU adjunct lecturer and author, will moderate for other members of the Affrilachian Poets in a discussion dedicated to the origin of Appalachian culture, poetry and diversity. 

Lastly, from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. Saturday, there will be a poetry reading featuring Walker, Alvarez, Douglas, Ellis and Kwong, who will all read their works. There will be a book signing following the readings. 

Local bookstore Morgenstern's is sponsoring these events, as are many other organizations of IU and the Bloomington community such as the Asian American Studies Program, the IU Arts & Humanities Council and the Writers Guild at Bloomington, among others. Matthew Woods, the supervisor and community specialist at Morgenstern’s, was contacted about their sponsorship of the events. The program focuses on a topic that is close to Woods, as he is Appalachian. 

“In the wake of many political movements recently, Appalachia has been used as an example of Americans who haven't quite caught up to the times,” Woods said. “Appalachia is imagined by a large portion of the U.S. to be a homogenized group of white hillbillies, and not the diverse group of people that are contained within the space laid out by the Appalachian Regional Commission.” 

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The information presented and discussed throughout the event is intended to confront the stereotypes of Appalachian people that Woods illustrates. 

“This event will challenge people to think about identity in multiple ways: race, ethnicity, region, gender, culture, socioeconomic class, environment, family, community and more,” Kwong said. “We can understand each other better as human beings when we make space for our differences and everyone’s voices and experiences.” 

Maria E. Hamilton Abegunde, an assistant professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and author, teaches contemporary Black poetry for both undergraduates and graduates and has taught the works of the Affrilachian Poets. 

“Studying the works of Affrilachian poets helps readers and listeners unlearn misconceptions about the cultures and histories of the Affrilachian region,” Abegunde said. “Place, therefore, is extremely important and necessary in each of their works.” 

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