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Winner of the 35th Annual Lillian Smith Book Award

This collection of persona poems tells the story of the infamous Lewis and Clark expedition from the point of view of Clark's personal slave, York. The poems form a narrative of York's inner and outer journey, before, during and after the expedition--a journey from slavery to freedom, from the plantation to the great northwest, from servant to soul yearning to be free. Over the course of the saga and through the poems, we are treated to subtle and overt commentaries on literacy, slavery, native Americans, buffalo, the environment, and more. Though Buffalo Dance purposely references historic accounts and facts, it is fictionalized poetry, and Frank X Walker's rare blend of history and art breathes life into an important but overlooked historical figure.

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.

"An ardently imagined and gloriously vivid first-person account of York’s awe over the munificent and daunting wilderness, and instant rapport with the Indians he meets." -- Booklist ( starred review )

"Walker’s rare blend of history and art breathes life into an important but overlooked historical figure." -- Frankfort (KY) State Journal

"Frank X Walker's Buffalo Dance is a remarkable achievement, a work of historic fiction to be sure, but one which is so richly evocative, so finely drawn, and so keenly nuanced that it convinces us of the validity of its premise: It succeeds in giving a living voice to the voiceless dead. In these poems, Walker has created a poetic character of such depth, power, wit, and vitality, a character alive to the enriching, and personally liberating, possibilities of experience, who is, at the same time, never forgetful of the painfully abundant limitations imposed by his circumstances, that the long dead, very human York would surely be proud to claim him as his own." -- George P. Weick, Director, Institute for Liberal Studies, Kentucky State Univers

"Buffalo Dance has great power and beauty. This is poetry and storytelling of a high order." -- Gurney Norman

Narrates the physical and spiritual journey from a plantation servant to a man yearning for fulfillment and freedom. -- Kentucky Living

"Walker fictionalizes York’s thoughts and dreams and delivers a realism to a black man revered by the Native Americans as ‘Big Medicine.’" -- Kentucky Monthly

"Walker brilliantly liberates the spirit of York, the historically unrecognized member of the Louis and Clark Expedition." -- Key Newsjournal

"York’s persona and the depth of Walker’s insight reveal the slave’s noble character and produce a powerful book." -- Lexington Herald-Leader

"Walker presents his poetry as if York is another voice entirely. Walker is responsible for the historical epigraphs and titles; York writes the poetry. The two voices form a dialogue that enriches the poems. The titles and epigraphs often force the reader to think harder and reinterpret the subsequent poems." -- Louisville Cardinal

"A brave collection of poems. . . . Brims with the rich complexity of York’s condition in a way that will appeal to a wide audience." -- Louisville Courier-Journal

"Walker’s York embodies incredible inner strength, reveres the outdoors, and possesses a remarkable combination of pathos, compassion, and heroism." -- Modern Mountain Magazine

"And now York, finally, has a voice. The man who made the voyage, the man with all the hopes and dreams of freedom has a voice, raises a song to his freedom, understands that his life was not his best self, only the best that he could do. Let us all raise a praise song to Frank X Walker, for giving voice to York. What a magnificent achievement." -- Nikki Giovanni

"Fills a void in the great pantheon of the imagined American historical voice. This is an important luminous new collection." -- Nikky Finney

"Using historical research, Walker eerily channels York, chronicling his growth into a free(d) man within himself." -- North American Review

"This soulful collection transverses York’s personal expedition." -- Sojourners

I"n 57 quietly moving poems, Frank X Walker speaks in the voice he has imagined for York, the slave of William Clark, and the only black man who participated in the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery up the Missouri, across the country to the Pacific and back to St. Louis." -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Walker’s York embodies incredible strength, reveres the outdoors, and possesses a remarkable combination of pathos, compassion, and heroism." -- Union Co. (KY) Advocate

"This imaginary interpretation of York's life into freedom and struggle against oppression is the very stuff of life and it is just as important that the stories be told not only for those of Affrilachian descent, but also for all of us who face the daily threat of homogenization by impersonal forces whose only intent is power over others." -- Vox

“York is no longer silent. If York could have chosen the ‘vessel’ for his voice, he surely could have not selected a more capable voice than that of Frank X Walker. Kentucky native Walker, a founder of the Affrilachian Poets and the 2005 recipient of the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, gives elegant, wise, and reverent voice to York.” -- Serena Beam -- Big Muddy

"A rare blend of history and art, Buffalo Dance is a unique collection." --

“His craft is sure throughout, his aesthetic consistent. Through exploring and imagining York’s perspective, Walker succeeds in enhancing our understanding of an important chapter in American history.” -- William Jolliff -- Appalachian Journal

“Kudos to Walker: the achieve of, the master of the thing.” -- North American Review

Winner of the 2005 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry given by the Lannan Foundation.

Winner of the 35th Annual Lillian Smith Book Award.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






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


Creative Writing

Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York
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