Affrilachian Poets explain decision to reject award from Gov. Bevin

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - A group of poets and writers has rejected an award from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, saying they will not accept it because of the governor's comments, positions and actions regarding several issues.

"[W]e cannot truthfully and accurately represent our aesthetic character and ethical position if we accept an award in this current governor's name," The Affrilachian Poets said in a statement announcing the decision on Friday.

"There are members of the group who, I'm pretty sure, would have felt that we sold out if we accepted the award," Frank X Walker told WKYT's Garrett Wymer on Monday. Walker is a member of the collective of poets, writers and educators and coined the word "Affriliachia."

The Affrilachian Poets were announced on Wednesday as the winners of the 2016 Community Arts Award, one of nine awards handed out annually as part of the Governor's Awards in the Arts.

On Friday, the Poets announced that they would not accept the award.

They posted their reasoning in a note on Facebook, denouncing Governor Bevin's actions and positions on several issues, including education and arts education, criminal justice reform, universal healthcare and the LGBTQ community.

"It is in the spirit of Kentucky's rich literary tradition reaching back to William Wells Brown, that we vehemently reject any award given in this governor's name," the statement reads.

A spokesperson for the governor's office has not responded to WKYT's request for comment.

"It was an easy decision for us to make, I think," Frank X Walker said on Monday. "And anybody in disagreement with us, or who are angry about it, haven't read our work. If they've read our work, they would not be surprised that we took that position."

The writers have not heard from the governor's office, Walker said, but in the days since announcing their decision they have gotten a lot of feedback from fellow writers, educators and others.

"One of the things that we as a collective believe is that poetry is about community, and poetry is about people learning to speak to each other about what matters to them," said Jeremy Paden, another member of the Affrilachian Poets. "In that sense, the response to this has really reinforced that core belief of the group."

Frank X Walker coined the term "Affrilachia" to refer to "a multicultural influence, a spectrum of people who consider Appalachia home and/or identify strongly with the trials and triumphs of being of this region," according to the collective's website. Their work intends "to reveal relationships that link identity to familial roots, socio-economic stratification and cultural influence, and an inherent connection to the land," the website says.

The group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

You can learn more about the Affrilachian Poets here.

A spokesperson for the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet (of which the Kentucky Arts Council is a part) told WKYT's Garrett Wymer that to their knowledge, this is the first time a Governor's Award in the Arts has been rejected. A replacement recipient will not be named, the spokesperson said.

The Governor's Awards in the Arts each year recognizes artists, organizations, critics, volunteers, schools, educators, local governments, elected officials and other citizens "who have made extraordinary and significant contributions to the arts in Kentucky," the Kentucky Arts Council's website says.

See the other 2016 Governor's Awards in the Arts winners here.

The ceremony recognizing the other award recipients will be held in October at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. A date and time have not yet been announced.




 
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