“I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire time, so captivated by her presence.” — U of Alabama, 2021

Crystal Wilkinson is the national award-winning author of Perfect Black (winner of a 2022 NAACP Image Award), The Birds of Opulence (winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence), Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. Nominated for both the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, she has received recognition from Yaddo, Hedgebrook, The Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and is a recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. Her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in the The Atlantic, Kenyon Review, Oxford American, Story, and Agni. Her most recent novel, 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.

Crystal identifies as a southern, feminist fiction writer, and grew up in the hills of Kentucky. She currently teaches at the University of Kentucky where she is Professor of English in the MFA in Creative Writing Program and Associate Chair of the English Department. She is a 2020 USA Artist Fellowship Recipient, a 2021 O. Henry Prize winner and makes her home in Lexington, KY. Crystal is a fellow of the Academy of American Poets was named the Poet Laureate for Kentucky in 2021. Her culinary memoir, Praisesongs for the Kitchen Ghosts is forthcoming from Clarkson/Potter Penguin Random House in 2023.

Perfect Black

University Press of Kentucky |

Crystal Wilkinson combines a deep love for her rural roots with a passion for language and storytelling in this compelling collection of poetry and prose about girlhood, racism, and political awakening, imbued with vivid imagery of growing up in Southern Appalachia. In Perfect Black, the acclaimed writer muses on such topics as motherhood, the politics of her Black body, lost fathers, mental illness, sexual abuse, and religion. It is a captivating conversation about life, love, loss, and pain, interwoven with striking illustrations by her long-time partner, Ronald W. Davis.

The Birds Of Opulence (Kentucky Voices)

University Press of Kentucky |

From the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street comes an astonishing new novel. 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.

Blackberries, Blackberries

University Press of Kentucky |
Short Story Collection

An enchanting, haunting collection of stories by Crystal Wilkinson, a self-described Black, country girl and poet from rural Kentucky. The stories explore the joys and pain of the women of “Affrilachia,” and will touch the reader profoundly.

“I grew up on a farm in Indian Creek, Kentucky, during the seventies. I swam in creeks and roamed the knobs and hills. We had an outhouse and no inside running water. Our house was heated by coal and wood-burning stoves and we lived so far back in the woods that we could get only one television station. But it was a place of beauty–trees, green grass, and blue sky as far as you could see. I am country. Being country is as much a part of me as my full lips, wide hips, dreadlocks, and high cheek bones. There are many Black country folks who have lived and are living in small towns, up hollers and across knobs. They are all over the South–scattered like milk thistle seeds in the wind. The stories in this book are centered in these places.” –CRYSTAL E. WILKINSON

Water Street

University Press of Kentucky |
Short Story Collection

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.


The Lure of Imaginary People: Readers and Writers


Writing from the Belly and the Heart: Fiction Workshop


Writing Your Family: Fiction Workshop


Mining Memories: Multiple Genre Workshop on Ancestry


Birth of a Story in an Hour or Less: Fiction Workshop

Upcoming Events

Crystal’s Short Stories

Food Writing

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Kentucky Poet Laureate
Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
Judy Gaines Young Book Awards
Appalachian Book of the Year
The O. Henry Prize for Best Short Story, 2021
NAACP Image Award

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