Reading series welcomes Kentucky Poet Laureate


Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson spoke in the Curris Center Ballroom on Thursday, Sept. 15, about her poetry collection, influences, and her upcoming kitchen memoir.

Ava Chuppe, Staff Writer

The creative writing program hosted Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson in the Curris Center Ballroom on Sept. 15 as part of its Reading Series.

At the event, Wilkinson read poems from her collection “Perfect Black” and passages from her novel “The Birds of Opulence.” She discussed finding her voice as a Black Appalachian woman in the writing world, citing feminist writers Audre Lorde and Kentucky’s Gloria Jean Watkins (better known by the pseudonym “bell hooks”) as her inspirations.

Senior literature major Keziah Sanders said she immediately felt as if Wilkinson knew her personally.

“She is dynamic, raw, passionate and bold,” Sanders said. “Through her writings, I, a Black girl from the deep South, was granted visibility. Because of her own voice, I, too, feel as if I can sing.”

Wilkinson is the award-winning author of the poetry collection “Perfect Black” and the novels “The Birds of Opulence,” “Water Street” and “Blackberries, Blackberries.” She is the recipient of a 2022 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Poetry, a 2021 O. Henry Prize, a 2020 USA Artists Fellowship and a 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence.

Wilkinson’s short stories, poems and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Kenyon Review, Oxford American and other publications. Her culinary memoir, “Praise Song for the Kitchen Ghosts,” will be published August 2023. She currently works as an associate professor in the creative writing master’s program at the University of Kentucky.

This is the first time Wilkinson has visited campus since before the pandemic, when she received the 2018 Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer’s Residency.

Senior professional writing major Hannah DuBois said she put the reading on her calendar as soon as she discovered it.

“I knew this was my chance to thank her for being the one to get me to Murray State,” DuBois said. “She was the one who encouraged me to apply for the Governor’s School for the Arts…it meant that I had a scholarship that allowed me to attend in-state and afford college.”

Wilkinson gave helpful critiques and encouragement in the creative writing classes she attended at Berea College, Dubois said.

“Because she was such a good writer, we all trusted that her opinion was the highest regard,” DuBois said. “Getting a chance to see her after all these years was just so impactful to me, and I’m really grateful for her mentorship.”

The event was made possible by the Department of English and Philosophy, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts’ dean’s office and the Office of Multicultural Initiatives.

The Reading Series brings visiting authors to campus for free public readings and class visits throughout the year. Its guest speakers have included Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, Guggenheim Fellows and more.

On Oct. 8 and 9, the Kentucky State Poetry Society will hold its annual conference with both in-person and virtual workshops and readings. In-person events will be held at Western Kentucky University. Crystal Wilkinson will serve as the keynote speaker of the conference.

For more information about the Kentucky State Poetry Society event, visit

Anyone interested in future Reading Series events can follow the creative writing program on Facebook or Instagram @murraystatecreativewriting for updates.