Crystal Wilkinson is the award-winning author of 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 The Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Kentucky Arts Council, 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. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in the Oxford American and Southern Cultures. She currently teaches at the University of Kentucky where she is Associate Professor of English in the MFA in Creative Writing Program.
This program will be available to watch live on Facebook Live, on YouTube, and on the OCPL website's LWB Livestream page. Log into your Facebook or YouTube account during the program to leave questions for Crystal in the comments box. She will answer them during the live broadcast.
This project is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
ABOUT THE ANN THOMAS MEMORIAL LECTURE:
Ann Thomas migrated with her mother to Wheeling from North Carolina as a child. Ann grew up during Wheeling's Jim Crow era and became one of the first African American students to leave segregated Lincoln School for Wheeling High School after Brown vs Board was decided in 1954. She thereafter became Wheeling's first African American Nurse. Her husband, Clyde, was a great football player for the semi-pro Wheeling Ironmen and the only African American elected to Wheeling's City Council in the modern era.
Ann was a wonderful, optimistic, courageous, and genuinely kind woman, and a dedicated patron of the library and library programs. After she passed on February 22, 2019 (having bravely battled cancer and endured suffering for many years), we decided to create an annual memorial lecture series at the library in her honor.
Our first speaker was Dr. Joe Trotter of Carnegie Mellon, who talked about his book, Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America on Feb. 18, 2020.
We are honored to have the great Crystal Wilkinson as our second speaker in this series.
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.
"It's a book so prismatic that it makes us inquire, long after it ends, about the special and specific processes of nature, both our biomes and human wildness. The Birds of Opulence is categorically lyrical. On the surface, one can hear echoes of predecessors such as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Thus, in The Birds of Opulence, Wilkinson recreates a nuclear family that is literally the beating heart of eco-feminism with all its squash patches and broken water in dirt." — Rain Taxi Review of Books
"Wilkinson's novel is a special gift to Kentuckians. It speaks to the love of family and the region, and delivers real life tragedies and joys with honest appraisal. It deserves a spot on the shelf with the masters, James Still, Harriette Arnow, and Wendell Berry." — Louisville Review
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"Lunch With Books" is the library’s flagship program for adult patrons. These lunchtime programs feature authors, poets, musicians, historians, and more every Tuesday at noon. Bring lunch (to your computer), feed your brain!
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