Professional News

#WomenOfUK: Writer Crystal Wilkinson Has Banner 2018

photo of Crystal Wilkinson seated on her book's bench
"The Birds of Opulence" was featured in Lexington's book benches exhibition in 2018. The book is by UK Associate Professor of English Crystal Wilkinson and was published by University Press of Kentucky. Mark Cornelison I UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 26, 2019) — The University of Kentucky community is celebrating Women’s History Month. Throughout March, UKNow will feature the women — past and present — on whose shoulders we stand and whose hard work has made our achievements possible. With a combination of fierce resolve and deep compassion, UK women have left indelible marks on our university. Join us as we highlight these #WomenOfUK.

UK Associate Professor of English and author Crystal Wilkinson enjoyed a banner year in 2018 racking up critical acclaim and several honors for her novel, “The Birds of Opulence.”  The multigenerational novel, published by University Press of Kentucky, follows four generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness. Since publication, "The Birds of Opulence" has won the Appalachian Writers Association's Appalachian Book of the Year for Fiction, the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Weatherford Award for Fiction and the Judy Gaines Young Book Award.

In the summer of 2018, “The Birds of Opulence” was included in Book Benches: A Tribute to Kentucky Authors, a collaboration between Arts ConnectLexArts and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. The public art project featured 36 functional, book-shaped benches, each illustrated and themed around a different work by a Kentucky author. The benches were placed throughout Lexington to encourage reading and provide a place for rest. Wilkinson’s bench, designed by Kentucky artist and UK alumna Lora Gill, of Bowling Green, will be installed along South Limestone in front of the University Press of Kentucky office.

In addition to garnering awards and serving as the inspiration for public art, “The Birds of Opulence” was also named the debut selection of the Open Canon Book Club. The club was created by New York Times best-selling author Wiley Cash to introduce readers to voices and portrayals of the American experience they may not have otherwise encountered in their day-to-day lives, their education or their book club meetings.

But “The Birds of Opulence” was not the only one of Wilkinson’s books that got attention in 2018. Her second short story collection, “Water Street,” was selected as the One Book Read at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. The program is a community-wide effort to help eliminate illiteracy in the region, with faculty and staff at WKCTC collaborating with many local and college partners to promote reading. The program culminated in a two-day visit to WKCTC by Wilkinson to speak to both community and college audiences on March 12-13 of this year.

Wilkinson’s work has earned her personal honors as well. The Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Committee and the West Virginia Center for the Book selected her for the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award. Previous recipients include Henry Louis Gates, Charles Frazier, Frank X Walker, Denise Giardina and Silas House. In conjunction with the award, she is the One Book, One West Virginia Author for 2019, and “Water Street” will be read by students across the state.

In addition, Wilkinson gained speaker representation from Authors Unbound, which will broker her events in the form of literary engagements, one book programs, distinguished lectures, keynote appearances, community visits and a variety of signature events. She was also named the 2018 Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Murray State University. The Moore Residency was created to strengthen literary connections between Appalachia and Western Kentucky while enhancing the creative and professional growth of students pursuing their MFA at Murray State.

Wilkinson is an associate professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at UK Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences. Further information on Crystal Wilkinson, her books and upcoming events can be found on her author website:

University Press of Kentucky 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 UK, which provides financial support toward the operating expenses of the publishing operation through the UK Libraries.