Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Crystal Wilkinson, November 24, 2017

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Wilkinson's background / Wilkinson's identities as a writer

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Partial Transcript: Well good morning.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson says she is from Lexington, Kentucky and works as a professor at Spalding University and Berea College. She is also a writer and a bookstore owner. She describes herself as a Black woman writer first and then a rural writer. She talks about grappling with identifying herself as an Appalachian writer or Southern writer or Affrilachian writer. She says it's important to be conscious of one's identities so other people do not impose identities onto oneself.

Keywords: Affrilachian writers; African American writers; Appalachian writers; Black woman writers; Black writers; Kentucky writers; Minority writers; Southern writers; Wild Fig Books and Coffee; Women writers

Subjects: African American authors.; Authors.; Berea College; Identity; Kentucky.; Lexington (Ky.); Minority authors.; Spalding University; Women authors; Writing.

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
00:07:59 - What being a Kentucky writer is like as an identity

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Partial Transcript: Are you talking about as far as publishing or?

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about how career writers might benefit from writing circles in larger cities but social media can also help. She also talks about how Kentucky writers often get depicted as regional writers due to stereotypes about Kentucky. She connects the conversation to W.E.B. Du Bois' concept of double consciousness and the comments people have made about Gayl Jones and her work.

Keywords: Black Kentucky writers; Black writers; Double consciousness; Gayl Jones; Kelly Norman Ellis; Kentucky writers; Publishing; W.E.B. Du Bois; William Faulkner

Subjects: Authors.; Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963.; Ellis, Kelly Norman, 1964-; Faulkner, William; Jones, Gayl; Kentucky.

00:14:19 - The significance of homeplace

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Partial Transcript: So talk a little bit about the significance of, of representing these type of homeplaces that's ours.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson discusses the significance of homeplace for Kentucky African American communities. She talks about the importance of making African Americans in Kentucky more visible.

Keywords: Frank X. Walker; Home-places; Homeplaces; Lineage

Subjects: African Americans--Societies, etc.; African Americans--Southern States.; Home.; Invisibility; Kentucky.; Walker, Frank X., 1961-

GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
00:16:49 - Wilkinson's literary lineage / More on identity as a Kentucky writer

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Partial Transcript: Who is a part of, of your, um, first your literary lineage but also secondly your Kentucky lineage?

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson lists people who have influenced her writing and make up her literary lineage. She names specific works by these authors that have especially had an impact on her. She also discusses identity and how being labelled as a Kentucky writer has affected her writing and her identity, as well as the writings of other Kentucky authors.

Keywords: Affrilachian poetry; Affrilachian poets; African American writers; Beetlecreek; Ernest Gaines; Gayl Jones; Jacinda Townsend; Jean Toomer; John Edgar Wideman; Kelly Norman Ellis; Kentucky writers; Minority writers; Nikky Finney; Outcasts; Rural peoples; Toni Cade Bambara; Toni Morrison; William Demby; Women writers; Writers

Subjects: African American authors.; African Americans--Societies, etc.; African Americans--Southern States.; Authors.; Bambara, Toni Cade; Bowling Green (Ky.); California; Demby, William.; Ellis, Kelly Norman, 1964-; Finney, Nikky; Gaines, Ernest J., 1933-2019; Indiana University; Indiana.; Jones, Gayl; Kentucky.; Minority authors.; Morrison, Toni; Mount Sterling (Ky.); New York (State); Regionalism.; Toomer, Jean, 1894-1967; Townsend, Jacinda; Wideman, John Edgar; Women authors; Writing.

GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
GPS: New York (State)
Map Coordinates: 42.9538, -75.5268
GPS: Indiana.
Map Coordinates: 39.8942, -86.2816
GPS: California
Map Coordinates: 37, -120
GPS: Mount Sterling (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.056667, -83.944444
GPS: Bowling Green (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.981667, -86.444444
GPS: Indiana University
Map Coordinates: 39.166667, -86.5
00:29:23 - Writing about trauma and mental health

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Partial Transcript: That's part of it too, you're talking about, uh, you know, you're talking about, uh, homeplace which is what you do a lot, you're talking about the tensions there and you're also talking about the trauma of the land.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about how her work addresses trauma, mental health, depression, and other issues people do not talk about openly but she does so through her characters. She talks about what she makes happen to her characters and how she makes them make a discovery at the end. She also explains how she writes about mental illness because her mother suffered from it and how it influenced her to write about Black women in rural areas.

Keywords: Blackberries, Blackberries (Book); Characters; Depression; Mental illnesses; Rural people; Trauma

Subjects: Authors.; Fictitious characters.; Mental health.; Writing.

00:36:06 - Rememory in Wilkinson's life and writing

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Partial Transcript: While, while you were talking it reminded me of, um, that idea that I mentioned of Toni Morrison's rememory.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson comments on her thoughts about rememory, a term created by Toni Morrison. She talks about how rememory consists of remembering and organizing one's memories. She also discusses the significance of rural landscapes for African Americans and, specifically, African Americans in Kentucky and how the loss of land and farms has disconnected them from the land.

Keywords: African American writers; Generational trauma; Healing; Intergenerational trauma; Minority writers; Rememory; Rural landscapes; Rural people; The Birds of Opulence (Book); Toni Morrison; Women writers

Subjects: African American authors.; African Americans--Societies, etc.; African Americans--Southern States.; Authors.; Minority authors.; Morrison, Toni; Women authors; Writing.

GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021
00:42:15 - Joe Brown in Wilkinson's book, "The Birds of Opulence"

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Partial Transcript: Sustaining, sustaining family and generation and land, and I, I, I see that even, um, in all your works.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about the character, Joe Brown, in her book, "The Birds of Opulence," and what makes him an outsider, as well as the consequences of his outsider identity. She talks about why Brown feels stronger about the land than his in-laws. She also mentions the concept Sankofa and how it relates to Brown's story.

Keywords: Sankofa; The Birds of Opulence (Book)

Subjects: Books.; Fictitious characters.; Writing.

00:47:21 - Future projects / Being a career writer

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Partial Transcript: Speaking of looking forward, can you talk a little bit about um, your, your future work beyond "Birds of Opulence?"

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about her future projects; she says she deliberately keeps several going at the same time. She mentions a memoir she is writing about her mother's experiences in mental institutions. She also mentions other projects that encompass poetry, epistolary fiction, and novels. Finally, she speaks on how she accidentally became a career writer.

Keywords: Career writers; Future projects; The Birds of Opulence (Book); Writers

Subjects: Authors.; Danville (Ky.); Epistolary fiction.; Homesickness.; Lexington (Ky.); Memoirs and biographies; Novels.; Poetry.; Writing.

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
GPS: Danville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.645556, -84.769722
00:53:49 - Affrilachian poetry and stories

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Partial Transcript: I have maybe two more questions to ask you.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about why she read prose during meetings with other Affrilachian Poets. She talks about how she used to try not to write stories because the other Affrilachian Poets mostly wrote poetry. However, she concedes that Affrilachian poetry has always included stories as well. Finally, she talks about the need for someone to write a critical work about Affrilachian writing.

Keywords: Affrilachian Poets; African American writers; Appalachian literature; Blacks in Appalachia (Book); Gayl Jones; Jacinda Townsend; Jesmyn Ward; Loyal Jones; Minority writers; Nikki Giovanni; Prose; William Demby

Subjects: African American authors.; Authors.; Demby, William.; Fiction.; Giovanni, Nikki; Jones, Gayl; Minority authors.; Poetry.; Townsend, Jacinda; Ward, Jesmyn.; Writing.

01:02:26 - The significance of a Kentucky African American lineage

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Partial Transcript: But on that note--and this might be my final question.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about the significance of a Kentucky African American lineage. She talks about how not writing about the experience of Kentucky African Americans would make it seem like they do not exist.

Keywords: Kentucky African American lineage; Kentucky African Americans; Lineage

Subjects: African Americans--Race identity.; African Americans--Southern States.; Authors.; Kentucky.; Writing.

GPS: Kentucky.
Map Coordinates: 37.5347, -85.3021