Crystal Wilkinson new novel, The Birds of Opulence (University Press of Kentucky, March 2016), is a lyrical exploration of love and loss centering on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness. Her two previous novels are Blackberries, Blackberries, winner of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature, and Water Street, a finalist for both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. The winner of the 2008 Denny Plattner Award in Poetry from Appalachian Heritage magazine and the Sallie Bingham Award from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, she serves as Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College and teaches in the Spalding University low residency MFA in Creative Writing.
Wilkinson is also the co-owner of an independent bookstore, The Wild Fig, which has become a cornerstone of a revitalized neighborhood in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. In this fascinating essay she reflects on the challenges of a family-owned small businesses, book-selling, and gentrification, “That gentrification wears two faces and that we are still straddled in both worlds and experience the double consciousness that W. E. B. Dubois so poignantly wrote about so many years ago. We see the children playing on Eddie Street and I have great plans to make sure they all get a book. I see the neighbors (both black and white) eye us suspiciously, as though they can't decide if we are for them or against them.”