Vibrant Communities

Celebrating the Art & Culture of Kentucky: Some of the Bluegrass is Black

About the Series

The Kentucky Arts Council presents a celebration of Black and African American artists through a monthly interview series that explores and showcases the lives, works and voices of several artists who call the Bluegrass home. Part artist talk, part personal interview, the series combines personal perspectives of the artist’s work, and meaningful conversations with both professional and emerging Black artists in the commonwealth.

The series is hosted by Lexington-based poet-scholar and professor Dr. Shauna M. Morgan, Director of Equity and Inclusion Initiatives at the Center for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at the University of Kentucky, and Associate Professor of creative writing and Africana literature at Howard University. This series is supported by a grant from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.

Join Dr. Morgan each month, June through November, to hear stories from the artists, their personal thoughts on art and artistry in today’s America, and their connections to working in Kentucky and beyond throughout their careers and at this point in time. You’ll also have the opportunity to get in on the conversation by submitting questions during the interview.

Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind series featuring some of Kentucky’s most accomplished artists.

The event is free and registration is required. Register here for the July 27 event.

About Shauna M. Morgan, Ph.D.

Dr. Shauna Morgan

The author of “Fear of Dogs & Other Animals” (Central Square Press), Dr. Shauna M. Morgan is a poet-scholar and Associate Professor of creative writing and Africana literature at Howard University. Both her scholarly work and her poetry are deeply engaged with global Black art and culture. Her critical work has been published in Journal of Postcolonial Writing, South Atlantic Review, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, College Language Association Journal, and elsewhere. Her poetry has appeared in A Gathering Together, Interviewing the Caribbean, A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, among other periodicals and anthologies. Shauna tends to a hopeful garden at her home at the Artists’ Village in the historic East End of Lexington and works at the University of Kentucky’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching where she is the Director of Equity and Inclusion Initiatives in Teaching, Learning, and Academic Innovation.

About Our First Guest: Frank X Walker

View the archived conversation

Frank X Walker

A native of Danville, Ky., Frank X Walker is the first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate. Walker has published 11 collections of poetry, including “Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers,” which was awarded the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. He is also the author of “Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York,” winner of the 2004 Lillian Smith Book Award, and “Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride,” which he adapted for stage, earning him the Paul Green Foundation Playwrights Fellowship Award. His poetry was also dramatized for the 2016 Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and staged by Message Theater for the 2015 Breeders Cup Festival. A lover of comics, Walker curated “We Wear the Mask: Black Superheroes through the Ages,” an exhibit of his personal collection of action figures, comics and related memorabilia at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center in 2015; he reprised the exhibit in 2018 at Purdue University and Western Carolina University. Walker recently returned to the world of visual art with a collection of new and early multimedia works, “Black Star Seed: When Mi Cyaan Find Di Words” which was on exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington.

Voted one of the most creative professors in the south, Walker coined the term “Affrilachia” and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets, subsequently publishing the much-celebrated eponymous collection. His honors also include a 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, the 2008 and 2009 Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry in Appalachian Heritage, the 2013 West Virginia Humanities Council’s Appalachian Heritage Award, as well as fellowships and residences with Cave Canem, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Kentucky Arts Council. In 2020 Walker received the Donald Justice Award for Poetry from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. The recipient of honorary doctorates from University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, Spalding University and Centre College, Walker is the founding editor of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture and serves as Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. His most recent collection is “Masked Man, Black: Pandemic & Protest Poems.”

About Our Second Guest: Mark Lenn Johnson

Mark Lenn Johnson

Mark Lenn Johnson is currently the President of Art Inc. Kentucky, a non-profit business and marketing incubator serving Kentucky artists and operated through Community Ventures. Johnson was born and raised in Lexington, Ky., and spent a number of his formative years growing up in the city’s historic East Side.

After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a minor in Economics in 1989, Johnson began a very rewarding career in the field of banking. After becoming one of the youngest vice presidents at his bank, and having a desire to be of more service to his hometown and later to his home state, Johnson left the banking industry and became involved in the non-profit small and micro business development field, eventually coming to oversee the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Small Business Services Division within the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. It was also during this time that he started pursuing his artistic endeavors in glassmaking.

After spending almost 10 years in state government, Johnson returned to Community Ventures, his first job in economic development, to oversee its business and mortgage lending activities, all the while pursuing his artistic pathway.

After expanding his artistic body of work to include not only glassmaking but abstract painting and creative photography as well, Johnson was invited to show a collection of his work at one of New York City’s largest art shows – ArtExpo. As a result of that event, Johnson was offered an opportunity to show his work at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and shortly thereafter was recognized by Art Tour International Magazine as one of the world’s Top 60 Contemporary Artists of the Year. He participated in a group show in Florence, Italy, where he received his award.

His work is part of the permanent collection of Eastern Kentucky University’s John Grant Crabbe Main Library. In 2019, he was invited to show his work in Eastern Kentucky University’s “My Kentucky State of Mind”, an exhibition of contemporary African-American artists. In 2020, in celebration of Black History Month, he was invited to show his work at the NAACP’s Evening of Elegance, an event celebrating African-American artistic expression.

His most proud accomplishments, however, are being a dad to his two sons – Matthew and MacKenzie – as well as to Picasso, their rescue Chihuahua.