Monday, August 27, 2001

Poetry show focuses on racial gap

10 African-American Appalachians on film

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — A Covington duo is attempting to bridge what they say is a gap between whites and African-Americans of Appalachian heritage.

        Jean Donohue and Fred Johnson work for Media Working Group, a 14-year-old non-profit media education and arts production organization. They are putting the finishing touches on Coal Black Voices, a one-hour documentary featuring 10 African-American poets of Appalachian descent.

  • What: Coal Black Voices.
  • When: 10 p.m. Sept. 10.
  • Where: WCVN-TV (Channel 54 or Channel 2 on Insight Communications).
  • Highlights: Jean Donohue and Fred Johnson of Media Working Group of Covington produced and directed the one-hour documentary. It features interviews with 10 African-American poets from Kentucky, the South and Appalachia.
        The show will air 10 p.m. Sept. 10 on WCVN-TV (Channel 54).

        “Kentucky and Appalachia have a rich literary tradition,” said Ms. Donohue, 49. “African-American writers have not been a part. We're not saying it's racism; they just haven't had a part in it.”

        Frank X. Walker is one of the founding members of Affrilachian Poets, a group of 10 writers featured in the program. The Danville native and Louisville resident said his group draws from a shared ancestry — African-American, African, Latino, Appalachian and Southern — and he named the group to get some attention.

        “The power of the word “Affrilachian” is that it claims Appalachia as a region,” said Mr. Walker, 40, who is the director of the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts in Louisville. “It says that the stereotype of a homogenous white region is inaccurate. We're a part of the region.”

        Mr. Walker said whites and African-Americans who claim Appalachia as their heritage share some culture, if for no other reason than a common geography.

        “There are lot of cultural similarities,” Mr. Walker said. “It includes celebration of family. I think both cultures have been portrayed and stereotyped negatively.”

        Mr. Johnson, 53, said he and Ms. Donohue have been thinking about the project for at least 10 years. It might not have come about if the Kentucky Educational Television network had not requested funding proposals two years ago.

        The show features interviews conducted at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and Java House in Louisville, and poetry readings at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville.

        “The bottom line is,” Mr. Johnson said. “these people are really great poets.”

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