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A sequel to the award-winning Buffalo Dance, Frank X Walker’s When Winter Come: The Ascension of York is a dramatic reimagining of Lewis and Clark’s legendary exploration of the American West. By focusing on the humanity and struggles of York, Clark’s slave, When Winter Come challenges conventional views of the journey’s heroes and exposes the deeds, both great and ghastly, of the men behind the myth.

Grounded in the history of the famous trip, Walker’s vibrant account allows York—little more than a forgotten footnote in traditional narratives—to embody the full range of human ability, knowledge, emotion, and experience. He is a skillful hunter who kills his prey with both grace and reverence, and he thinks deeply about the proper place of humans in the natural world. York knows the seasons “like a book,” and he “can read moss, sunsets, the moon, and a mare’s foaling time with a touch.” The Native peoples understand and honor York’s innate bond with the earth. Though his expertise is integral to the journey’s success, York’s masters do not reward him; they know only the way of the lash.

The alternately heartbreaking and uplifting poems in When Winter Come are told from multiple perspectives and rendered in vivid detail. On the journey, York forges a spiritual connection and shares sensual delights with a Nez Perce woman, and he aches when he is forced to leave her and their unborn son. Walker’s poems capture the profound feelings of love and loss on each side of this ill-fated meeting of souls. When the trek ends and York is sent back to his former home, his wife and stepmother air their joys and grievances.

As the perspectives of Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and others in the party emerge, Walker also gives voice to York’s knife, his hunting shirt, and the river waters that have borne the labors and travels of thousands before and after the Lewis and Clark expedition. Despite fleeting hints that escape is possible, slavery continues to bind York and quell the joyful noise in his spirit until his death. Walker’s poems, however, give York his voice after centuries of silence. When Winter Come exalts the historical persona of a slave and lifts the soul of a man. York ascends out of his chains, out of oblivion, and into flight.

Frank X Walker is the author of Black Box, Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, and Affrilachia. The recipient of a 2005 Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Lillian Smith Book Award, and the Thomas D. Clark Award for Literary Excellence, Walker is Writer-in-Residence at Northern Kentucky University and associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky.

“When Winter Come is an astonishing collection of poems that ushers Frank X Walker into the company of other memorable poets like Roethke, Hugo, Clifton, and Dove but he also recollects the powerful narrative voice of Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Frank X Walker magically captures York, not the flat historical figure represented in Lewis & Clark’s journals—Walker has tapped into the true voice of York and conjured him on the page. This is not just a book of poems—this is a book of spirits and shimmering apparitions.”--Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red

“Beginning with Buffalo Dance and continuing with the groundbreaking When Winter Come, Frank X. Walker's lyrical and stunning resurrection of York is an unparalleled creative discourse. The poet, in stanzas probing and revelatory, opens the slave's life wide, not examining York as much as inhabiting him, laying bare the complications, frailties and triumphs that history dims and denies. There is much here that we do not know, and we are blessed that it is Walker who has taken on this chronicle of York's 'other life'--with the same unflinching passion, the same deft characterization and the same undeniable courage.”—Patricia Smith, author of Teahouse of the Almighty, winner of the National Poetry Series

“I heard Walker read these poems. Now there is the delight of reading them yourself with this book. They are honest, true, raw, brilliantly conceived. An important contribution to illuminating our past and making it alive.”—Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

"The lyrical and moving poetry of Frank Walker has given York a voice and brought to life his world of slavery, adventure, love, nature, and African and Native American mythology."--James J. Holmberg, Curator of Special Collections, The Filson Historical Society

“Frank X Walker has re-imagined the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition in a way no one else has. This powerful and insightful book is more than an admirable sequel to Buffalo Dance. It is a careful re-examination of historical records, re-imagined and conjured into a concert of voices whose aim is truth. One can read When Winter Come through from beginning to end like a good novel, and then go back and savor it one poem at time. Walker has given all of us who care about American literature a lasting gift.”—Greg Pape, Montana Poet Laureate (2007-2009) and author of Sunflower Facing the Sun and Border Crossings

With characteristically fierce, driven energy, prize-winning poet Frank Walker seems to channel the powerful voice of York, a slave owned by William Clark, as well as the compelling voices of York’s Nez Perce wife, York’s brother, and Clark himself. Walker becomes a contemporary bard – thrilling us, moving us, filling us with discoveries as his remarkable poems follow the Lewis and Clark expedition from its underside. When Winter Come: The Ascension of York is Walker’s finest achievement so far.--Molly Peacock, author of Cornucopia

“This collection is a sequel to Walker’s award-winning “Buffalo Dance,” and like its predecessor is a masterful blending of history, folk narrative, myth and explorations into the mysterious nature of man and his relationship to his environment, his human pilgrimage, and even the Divine. The Lewis and Clark expedition becomes only one facet (less important at the end than at the beginning) of the journey each man and woman—and the natural worlds through which they traverse—must undergo in order to reach conclusions that lead to important ultimate truths of the heart.” --James Darrell, Bowling Green Daily News

“Walker follows the acclaimed Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York with an even more engaging account of a woefully neglected historical figure whose indispensible work with Lewis and Clark’s Expedition of Discovery wasn’t compensated at all.” --Todd Mercer,Foreword Magazine

“Affrilachian innovator and Lannan Fellow Frank X. Walker follows the acclaimed Boffalo Dance: The Journey of York with an even more engaging account of a woefully neglected historical figure whose indispensable work with Lewis and Clark’s Expedition of Discovery wasn’t compensated at all. When Winter Come: The Ascension of York again divines the thoughts of Captain William Clark’s body servant, fleshing out the picture with the voices of York’s Nez Perce and slave wives, Sacagewea, and a deeply flawed Captain Clark who breaks an implied promise of manumission.” --Foreword Magazine

"By making the erased visible, and the silenced audible, When Winter Come leads us to reconsider not only the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but also how the story of geography and exploration as racialised practices can be told." --Innes M. Keighren,Scottish Geographical Journal

"This is a beautiful collection of poetry and is highly recommended." --Margaret Bashaar,

“Although clearly a sequel, When Winter Come: The Ascension of York is quite a different kind of book. Obviously, it has the same subject, but it does more than extend the story of York’s life. . . . Singly and together, [Buffalo Dance and When Winter Come] are a great success: they portray the complex character of York, they enrich our understanding of an important chapter in American history, and they demonstrate the evolving art of Frank X Walker.” --William Jolliff, Appalachian Journal

"Few artists from the mountains have used the hills as successfully as a springboard to something as important as poetry as Frank X Walker."

"What Walker gives readers in this new book is not simply the voice of York . . . but a profusion of individualized voices, more then a dozen, which range fro York and William Clark to York’s father, to his father’s wife, Rose, York’s unnamed slave wife, and his Nez Perce wife, but which include inanimate objects like York’s hunting shirt, his hatchet, and his knife." -- -- John Lang -- Emory and Henry College

"Frank X Walker is one of the most important voices in contemporary Appalachian poetry." --John Lang, Emory and Henry College

"In his newest work, Frank X Walker not only produces a fresh harvest of voices: he does so in eloquent, poetic form. Walker gives voice to other equally important historical voices, thereby sharpens the focus on the goodness and failings of all humans, and all the while widening the lens of truth known as history." --Big Muddy

"Frank X. Walker is one of the most important voice in contemporary Appalachian poetry, someone who, like the medicine man in this new volume’s “Real Medicine,” “sing[s] a healing song.” --Southern Quarterly

Walter's poetry is intelligent, relatable, emotional, and engaging all at the same time. He takes regional stereotypes and shatters them, showing readers through literary devices that the Appalachian region has much more to offer than what stereotypes lead those outside the region to believe. -- The Sentinel-Echo -- Rob McDaniel -- The Sentinel-Echo

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Lewis and Clark Expedition, Explorers, Slaves, African American men, Poetry


Creative Writing

When Winter Come: The Ascension of York
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