LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 21, 2017) — University Press of Kentucky (UPK) author Crystal Wilkinson's novel, "The Birds of Opulence," has earned its second and third book award this spring. This March, the novel took home the Weatherford Award for Fiction and the Judy Gaines Young Book Award, both honors recognizing the book's contribution to Appalachia. "The Birds of Opulence" previously took home the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in the fall of 2016.
The Weatherford Award is given by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association, and it honors books that best illuminate the challenges, personalities and unique qualities of the Appalachian South. The award was presented to Wilkinson on March 10, at the 2017 Appalachian Studies Association Conference at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
The Judy Gaines Young Book Award is funded by Dr. Byron Young in memory of his wife, Judy Gaines Young. The award is presented annually by Transylvania University to the author of a book of distinction from the Appalachian region published the previous year. Wilkinson was presented with this award on March 21. This marks the first time a book from University Press of Kentucky has won this honor.
"The Birds of Opulence" is Wilkinson's first novel and it centers on several generations of women in the bucolic southern black township of Opulence 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. At once tragic and then hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own.
In addition to the critical acclaim for her novel, Wilkinson's previous work is also making news. Two previous short story collections by the writer, "Blackberries, Blackberries," winner of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature, and "Water Street," a finalist for both the United Kingdom's Orange Prize for Fiction and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, have recently been released in new paperback editions from UPK.
"Blackberries, Blackberries" is an enchanting and haunting collection of stories that explore the joys and pain of the women of Appalachia. The collection of stories is reminiscent of blackberries — they are small, succulent morsels that are inviting and sweet, yet sometimes bitter. Wilkinson provides a glimpse into the eyes of characters which includes, two misfit teenagers seeking love and acceptance, a woman obsessed with dying, a wife who confronts her husband's mistress, and a pious young woman. The stories are concise and transient providing humor, sadness and honesty.
"Water Street" examines the secret lives of neighbors and friends who live on Water Street in a small town in Kentucky. Wilkinson focuses on love, loss, truth and tragedy and uses different inhabitants of Water Street to narrate the story.
Wilkinson is an accomplished writer and has earned several awards including the 2008 Denny Plattner Award in Poetry from Appalachian Heritage magazine and the Sallie Bingham Award from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. The Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College, Wilkinson also teaches in the Spalding University low residency MFA in Creative Writing Program. In addition to her extensive writing career, she owns Wild Fig Books & Coffee with her partner Ron Davis.
UPK is the scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, representing a consortium that includes all of the state universities, five private colleges, and two historical societies. The press’ editorial program focuses on the humanities and the social sciences. Offices for the administrative, editorial, production and marketing departments of the press are found at University of Kentucky, which provides financial support toward the operating expenses of the publishing operation through the UK Libraries.
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