Interview with Crystal Wilkinson
photo: Anastasia Pottinger, Rogue Studios
Crystal Wilkinson, Kentucky’s newly-appointed Poet Laureate, is a multi-genre, award-winning writer. Her novel, The Birds of Opulence won the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence as well as several other book awards, and was chosen by the Kentucky Humanities Council for their 2021 Kentucky Reads project, a book-in-common for the Commonwealth. Crystal’s other works of fiction are Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street.
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Crystal came to Indian Creek in Casey County, Kentucky when she was an infant and was raised by her grandparents on a tobacco farm. She was educated at Eastern Kentucky University and Spalding University and has served as a teacher of writing at several Kentucky institutions. Currently she teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Kentucky.
She is the recipient of a 2021 O. Henry Prize and a 2020 USA Artists Fellowship. Nominated for the John Dos Passos Award, the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, she has received recognition from the Yaddo Foundation, Hedgebrook, The Vermont Studio Center for the Arts, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and others. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in The Kenyon Review, STORY, Agni, Emergence, and Oxford American.
Her newest work is a collection of poems and essays: Perfect Black, forthcoming from University Press of Kentucky in August 2021. The book has already received the Thomas D. Clark Medallion, an annual award given by the Thomas D. Clark Foundation to writers whose literary achievements highlight Kentucky history and culture.
We talked to Crystal about her new book of poems, Perfect Black, her plans as Kentucky Poet Laureate, Black foodways, memory, and kitchen ghosts.
. . . it was the first time I had gotten close to reconciling the beauty and innocence of memory with the weight and burden of my mother's mental illness, my grandmother's silence around it, and how the brutal realities of farm life nested against those silences.
My grandmother fills the tub with water.I hate that she always reminds me of all she’s done for love.Remember. Remember. Hair. Face. Knife.
"Kitchen Ghosts” from Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson is reprinted with permission from the University Press of Kentucky.