Crystal Wilkinson, a recent fellowship recipient of the Academy of American Poets, is Kentucky’s Poet Laureate. She is the award-winning author of Perfect Black, a collection of poems, and three works of fiction—The Birds of Opulence , Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. She is the recipient of a 2022 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Poetry, a 2021 O. Henry Prize, a 2020 USA Artists Fellowship, and a 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence. She has received recognition from the Yaddo Foundation, Hedgebrook, The Vermont Studio Center for the Arts, The Hermitage Foundation and others. Her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in The Atlantic, The Kenyon Review, STORY, Agni Literary Journal, Emergence, Oxford American and Southern Cultures. Praise Song for the Kitchen Ghosts, a culinary memoir, is forthcoming from Clarkson Potter/Penguin Random House. She currently teaches at the University of Kentucky where she is Professor of English in the MFA in Creative Writing Program.
MFA in Creative Writing, Spalding University
BA in Journalism, Eastern Kentucky University
- Creative Writing
- The Short Story Cycle
- Black Culture in Appalachia
- Mental Illness in Literature
- Women and the Black Rural Landscape
THE BIRDS OF OPULENCE
A lyrical exploration of love and loss, The Birds of Opulence centers on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness. The Goode-Brown family, led by matriarch and pillar of the community Minnie Mae, is plagued by old secrets and embarrassment over mental illness and illegitimacy. Meanwhile, single mother Francine Clark is haunted by her dead, lightning-struck husband and forced to fight against both the moral judgment of the community and her own rebellious daughter, Mona. The residents of Opulence struggle with vexing relationships to the land, to one another, and to their own sexuality. As the members of the youngest generation watch their mothers and grandmothers pass away, they live with the fear of going mad themselves and must fight to survive. Crystal Wilkinson offers up Opulence and its people in lush, poetic detail. It is a world of magic, conjuring, signs, and spells, but also of harsh realities that only love-and love that's handed down-can conquer. At once tragic and hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own. The first title featured in Wiley Cash's Book Club!
The residents of Water Street are hardworking, God-fearing people who live in a seemingly safe and insulated neighborhood within a small Kentucky town: “Water Street is a place where mothers can turn their backs to flip a pancake or cornmeal hoecake on the stove and know our children are safe.” But all is not as it seems as the secret lives of neighbors and friends are revealed in interconnected tales of love, loss, truth, and tragedy.
In this critically acclaimed short story collection, Crystal Wilkinson peels back the intricate layers that form the fabric of this community and its inhabitants—revealing emotionally raw, multifaceted tales of race, class, gender, mental illness, and interpersonal relationships. The thirteen succinct stories offer fragmented glimpses of an overarching narrative that emerges, lyrical and fierce. Featuring a new foreword and a new afterword which illuminate Wilkinson’s artistic achievement, this captivating work is poised to delight a new generation of readers. This new edition features a new foreward and afterward from Marianne Worthington and Jacinda Townsend.
As the title implies, this beautifully written collection bursts with stories reminiscent of blackberries-–-small, succulent morsels that are inviting and sweet, yet sometimes bitter. Crystal Wilkinson provides an almost voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of her characters: Two misfit teenagers seek stolen moments of love and acceptance in the cloak of night (“Hushed”); a woman spends every waking hour obsessed with dying yet ironically watching her loved ones pass away before her (“Waiting on the Reaper”); a wife confronts her husband’s mistress in a diner over potato skins and cornbread (“Need”); and a pious young woman’s torment erupt in a violent and unsuspecting resolution (“No Ugly Ways”).
The stories in this award-winning collection are terse and transient, like snippets taken from random dreams, thoughts, or conversations. Wilkinson is able to embed a vibrancy into each stunningly descriptive and evocative tale. Infused with humor, sadness and honesty, this provocative and haunting work features a new foreword and a new afterword by nationally acclaimed authors Nikky Finney and Honorée Jeffers.
Birds of Opulence
- Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
- Judy Gaines Young Award
- Weatherford Award in Fiction
- Appalachian Book of the Year
- Named Southerner of the Year by Southern Living Magazine, Birmingham, AL, December 2016.
Water Street, (short story cycle) Toby Press, 2002, 2005. Paperback University Press of Kentucky, February 2017 (reprint). Paperback.
- United Kingdom’s Orange Prize (currently known as the Women's Prize for Fiction): Long List Finalist
- Hurston/Wright Legacy Award: Short List Finalist
Blackberries, Blackberries (short stories) , Toby Press, 2000. University Press of Kentucky, February 2017 (reprint). Paperback.
- Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature: Winner
- Today’s Librarian Magazine: Best Debut Fiction