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June 22, 2018 at 9:28 am

Spriggs Co-Edits Groundbreaking Affrilachian Anthology: Black Bone

Dr. Bianca Spriggs, performing at a microphone

Dr. Bianca Spriggs (Photo Credit: Brian Campbell)

by Kristin Distel

“If you enjoy and/or teach Appalachian literature, this anthology is a necessary addition to your libraries and syllabi. There’s literally quite nothing like it!” says Dr. Bianca Spriggs, Assistant Professor of English, says of the newly published book Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets.

Spriggs, along with fellow poet Jeremy Paden, served as co-editor of the volume.

Black Bone, a multi-genre volume, brings together “poems, short fiction, and critical essays written by scholars who specialize in contemporary literature by people of color, about the history and impact of the Affrilachian Poets Collective in the region,” Spriggs explains. The Appalachian area in which the Collective operates “stretches over thirteen states in both rural and urban settings.”

The works featured in this volume do not focus exclusively on a connection to the Appalachian landscape, though. They also take up issues of familial and personal relationships, considering how their interactions with people intersect with their feelings about the land in which they live.

“There’s also an emphasis on the relationship to culture—to food, music, spirituality, and of course, politics and the socioeconomic climate of the marginalized and oppressed,” Spriggs states.

‘The Voices of Appalachia’

The term “Affrilachian” was coined by Frank X Walker, one of the founding members of the Affrilachian Poets collective.

“If the Affrilachian Poets had a motto,” Spriggs remarks, “it would be something like: Writing the invisible visible. So, the work highlights a common theme in that we represent under-represented voices rooted in a region.”

One of the goals for this volume, Spriggs explains, is to broaden the public’s sometimes narrow view of Appalachian people and their identities. Pop culture often depicts the area in a harsh, negative, and homogenous light.

“We hope that readers think about the Appalachian region more inclusively after being introduced to our work,” she notes. “The voices of Appalachia are as evocative and vibrant and multifaceted as the terrain.”

“The anthology is meant to do for readers what the original community did for each of us who’ve come into the group. It’s meant to create a similar dynamic and make readers feel like they’re part of our family,” she adds.

Bringing Together Generations of Writers

For several years, Spriggs had been speaking with Walker about the idea of curating a commemorative volume, one that would highlight the Affrilachian Poets’ contributions and far-reaching importance.

“Finally, with Frank’s blessing, Jeremy and I […] got to work asking members for work that would reflect this amazing kinship between the written word over the decades. Some of the older work I’d been familiar with already because of the documentary, Coal Black Voices, which came out before I became a member, but so those poems were so instrumental in creating the Affrilachian aesthetic we couldn’t leave them out. And of course, as with all art that ages well, it’ll be new to somebody!”

b/w book cover of 'Black Bone' anthology

Spriggs’s involvement with the Affrilachian poets began when she was a student at the University of Kentucky. Spriggs explains that while The Affrilachian Poets Collective was established in 1991, she was initiated in 2004 as a second-wave member.

Thereafter, she was “reared as a writer by [her] literary heroes.”

She credits her involvement with the collective as essential to her own development as a writer. Spriggs is the author of The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor (Argos Books; 2016), Call Her By Her Name (Triquarterly Books; 2016), Circe’s Lament: Wild Women Poetry (Accents Publishing; 2015), How Swallowtails Become Dragons (Accents Publishing; 2011), and Kaffir Lily (Wind Publications; 2010).

She is also the co-editor of Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! (Apex Publications; 2017).

“I became a storyteller in Kentucky, and those themes often reflect the trials and triumphs of being a border state dividing the North and South. My work has also always been concerned with doing my best to leave the world in better condition than the way I found it, with an emphasis on the narratives of women, particularly women of color. And of course, there’s my interest in geek culture—speculative literature is my specialty in both writing and teaching. The Affrilachian Poets provided a safe space to allow me to experiment and grow.”

‘A Family Reunion’

The Affrilachian Poet Collective continues to foster Spriggs’s creative growth and development.

“I can still go to a reading with a full lineup of us, and it never gets old. I’m still the 18-year-old college freshman in a crowd full of fans, completely thrilled by what’s coming out of the pens and mouths of my first creative family.”

Indeed, Spriggs sees the anthology itself as “a family reunion.”

“This idea of community and kinship pervades our group. We don’t just write to hear ourselves talk—we empower others to take ownership of their narratives, too.”

Black Bone: 25 Years of the Appalachian Poets is available from the University of Kentucky Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers.

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