Tag Archives: The Birds of Opulence

Kentucky Novelist, UK Professor Enjoys Sweet Peach of a Summer

“Another sweaty summer presents itself like a gift. Sun is a peach outside the window, grass all calmed down.”

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University Press of Kentucky author Crystal Wilkinson has had a summer of gold. From her novel, The Birds of Opulencebeing named the winner of the 2016 Appalachian Writers Association‘s Appalachian Book of the Year for Fiction to Wilkinson herself being appointed as the 2018 Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Murray State University, Wilkinson has spent the hot summer months earning both professional and personal honors.

Birds follows four generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with—and sometimes surrender to—madness. The book hones in on the hopeful and sometimes tragic navigation of life as seen through the eyes of the Goode-Brown family. This marks the fourth award The Birds of Opulence has won, including the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Weatherford Award for Fiction, and the Judy Gaines Young Book Award. Wilkinson’s novel was also named the debut selection of the Open Canon Book Club, which was created by New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash to introduce readers to varied voices and portrayals of the American experience.

Birds is not the only one of Wilkinson’s books that has gotten attention this summer. Her second short story collection, Water Street, has been 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.

WATER STREET

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 will be the One Book, One West Virginia Author for 2019, and Water Street will be read by students across the state.

In addition, Wilkinson has 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.

Pictured at the top is Wilkinson sitting on a book bench designed by Bowling Green artist Lora Gill. Book Benches: A Tribute to Kentucky Authors is a public art project that features book-shaped benches, each themed around a different work by a Kentucky author, that have been placed around Lexington as a way to encourage reading. Wilkinson’s bench will be installed along South Limestone Street in front of the University Press of Kentucky office in November.

To top it off, Wilkinson accepted a new position as Associate Professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at the University of Kentucky. Further information on Crystal Wilkinson, her books, and her upcoming events can be found on her new author website: https://www.crystalewilkinson.net/.

From all of us at Kentucky Press, congratulations on a wonderful summer, Crystal!

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Meet the Press: Patrick O’Dowd, Acquisitions Editor

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Name: Patrick O’Dowd
Position: Acquisitions Editor
Hometown: Lexington, KY
Alma Mater: University of Kentucky

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Tell us a little bit about your position at the press.

I am one of UPK’s three acquiring editors. Most of my acquiring efforts are focused on regional titles, fiction, and poetry.

What’s one of your favorite UPK titles and why?

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson. It is a beautiful story by an amazing writer/human.

If someone was visiting Kentucky for the first time and you were their tour guide, where would you take them? Any specific restaurants, landmarks, etc.?

County Club

What’s your favorite word?

According to my fiancée: gorgeous.

Do you have a favorite font? If so, what is it? 

I have many strong opinions but not on fonts.

Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? When you were a kid, did you want to do something different as an adult?

Farmer, chef, race car driver. There was a certain process of elimination, but publishing is where I belong.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? What’s a random factoid about yourself?

I’m the biggest Formula 1 fan in Kentucky.

If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?

Leslie Knope.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee. Yes! It’s a well told story.

If you could have dinner with any three people—dead or alive, famous or not—who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama

Gentry Named Recipient of AWA Book of the Year for Poetry

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Author and former Kentucky Poet Laureate Jane Gentry (1941–2014) has been named the recipient of the Appalachian Writers Association’s 2017 Appalachian Book of the Year for Poetry for her posthumous collection The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry, edited by Julia Johnson, professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky.

Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet’s work. Upon being diagnosed with cancer, Gentry and her daughters began collaborating with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is the entirety of Gentry’s published work alongside new, previously unpublished poems.

“In poem after poem in this rich and important collection, Jane Gentry commemorates her personal history through the lens of poetry — family, friends, the seasons, the flora and fauna she moves through. This book is a love song to Kentucky,” commented Jeff Worley, editor of What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets.

Poet and professor Jane Gentry spoke to UK College of Arts and Sciences about her life and work in 2013.

The New and Collected Poetry of Jane Gentry is the ninth University Press of Kentucky book to win an AWA award, joining Driving the Dead: Poems by Jane Hicks and From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems by James Still as winner of the poetry award. In addition, Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers by Joyce Dyer, Songs of Life and Grace: A Memoir by Linda Scott DeRosier, My Appalachia: A Memoir by Sidney Saylor Farr, Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South by T.R.C. Hutton, and Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia by Helen Lewis all won the AWA’s Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction, and The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson, UK associate professor of English, won for fiction.

Gentry’s work is deeply rooted in place, exuding a strong connection to the life and land of her native Kentucky. In honor of this consummate poet, who possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments, we are sharing one of her poignant pieces, “A Garden in Kentucky.”

A Garden in Kentucky

Under the fluorescent sun
inside the Kroger, it is always
southern California. Hard avocados
rot as they ripen from the center out.
Tomatoes granulate inside their hides.
But by the parking lot, a six-tree orchard
frames a cottage where winter has set in.

Pork fat seasons these rooms.
The wood range spits and hisses,
limbers the oilcloth on the table
where an old man and an old woman
draw the quarter-moons of their nails,
shadowed still with dirt,
across the legends of seed catalogues.

Each morning he milks the only goat
inside the limits of Versailles. She feeds
a rooster that wakes up all the neighbors.
Through dark afternoons and into night
they study the roses’ velvet mouths
and the apples’ bright skins
that crack at the first bite.

When thaw comes, the man turns up
the sod and, on its underside, ciphers
roots and worms. The sun like an angel
beats its wings above their grubbing.
Evenings on the viny porch they rock,
discussing clouds, the chance of rain.
Husks in the dark dirt fatten and burst.

 

 

Meet the Press: Jackie Wilson, Marketing Assistant

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Name: Jackie Wilson
Position
: Marketing Assistant
Hometown
: Paris, KY

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Tell us a little bit about your position at the press.

I collaborate with the sales and marketing director to promote our books. I write and edit promotional copy for the seasonal catalogs and book jacket covers; contact various writers, professors, and professionals to solicit advance quotes for our publications; represent the press at various exhibits, fairs, and shows; and help manage the press’s social media platforms to promote new releases, events, and features.

What’s one of your favorite UPK titles and why?

It’s very hard to narrow down, but The Birds of Opulence is just an exquisite piece of fiction.

What’s your favorite word?

My favorite saying is “no worries.”

Do you have a favorite font? If so, what is it?

My favorite fonts vary, depending on the day and my mood, but Candara tends to be my go-to font.Candara

Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? When you were a kid, did you want to do something different as an adult?

Initially I wanted to be a marriage counselor as a kid (go figure), but have always had a love for writing. After reading When and Where I Enter as a teen and becoming a staff writer for my high school newspaper, I aspired to be the managing editor of Essence. I’ve worked with a number of publications: The Charlotte Observer, Army Times Publishing, USA Today, and the Lexington Herald Leader. I’ve also closed-captioned television shows, and worked as a traffic manager with WDKY-Fox 56, but this is my first venture into book publishing.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? What’s a random factoid about yourself?

To commemorate my 50th birthday this year, I plan to get my first tattoo.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

The last non-UPK book I read was Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. I’m currently reading her book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. She is a fearless beast of a writer—I love her work!

What’s your favorite song to sing at karaoke and why?

Surprisingly I’ve never done karaoke but if presented with the opportunity, I would probably choose a song by Journey.

Name three things you can’t live without.

A never-ending flow of iced tea (half-sweetened / half-unsweetened), lip gloss, and hugs and kisses from my kids, Shelby (13) and William Avery (11).

If you could have dinner with any three people—dead or alive, famous or not—who would it be and why?

My late grandparents (Mary Adair Woods and Rodney T. Woods, Sr.), Oprah Winfrey, and Idris Elba, because…well, have you seen Idris Elba?!

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