Crystal Wilkinson, author of “Water Street” and “Blackberries, Blackberries,” has been named the Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College. Housed in both the English and Appalachian studies departments, the grant-funded, three-year position will start at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester.
Wilkinson joins world-renowned scholar bell hooks, best-selling author Silas House and award-winning author Jason Howard as the latest notable hire at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, the first in the country to focus on the study and celebration of Appalachia.
Wilkinson, a Kentucky native from Casey County, has won awards in both fiction and poetry and is known for inspiring and teaching writers throughout the Appalachian region. She is a founding member of Affrilachian Poets, a writing collective formed to promote the creative work of African Americans in Appalachia. A former assistant director for the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, she has also taught creative writing at the Governor’s School for the Arts.
“We welcome not only an extraordinary Appalachian and African American writer and teacher, but a wonderful person whose ideals closely match Berea’s,” says Dr. Chad Berry, academic vice president and dean of the faculty.
“Neither she nor Berea could have made a better choice,” said Kentucky Poet Laureate and Affrilachian Poets cofounder Frank X Walker. “She will absolutely shine in that position, and all of Berea will feel the glow.”
This will be Wilkinson’s second tenure at Berea. In 2003 she served as a writer-in-residence for a short time. In addition to teaching all genres of creative writing, Wilkinson will continue to write. “I’m working on three different projects: a novel, a collection of poems about my grandfather being a ‘water witch,’ (dowser) and a memoir about my mother.” Silas House, author and National Endowment for the Humanities chair in Appalachian studies at Berea College, says, “Crystal is an excellent writer and a teacher who changes the lives of her students. She and Berea are the perfect match.”
Throughout the 2000s, Wilkinson’s work appeared in “Appalachian Heritage,” a literary magazine produced at Berea. Jason K. Howard, editor of “Appalachian Heritage,” says, “Crystal Wilkinson is one of contemporary Appalachia’s most important voices. Her commitment to both her craft and her students will be a major contribution to building an even stronger academic environment and literary community at Berea College.”
Wilkinson will work closely with Berea’s English and Appalachian studies programs. Chris Green, director of Berea’s Appalachian center, says Wilkinson will be a positive influence on Berea’s students. “Crystal will connect with Berea students across the board—rural or urban, Appalachian or not, black or white, beginning or advanced, younger or older. Whenever I read her words I learn not only how to be where I am but how to belong there and in the world. I think she’s going to do the same thing for Berea.”
Wilkinson grew up on her grandparents’ farm in Indian Creek, Ky., near Middleburg. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Kentucky University, and her master of fine arts in writing degree from Spalding University in Louisville. She has taught writing courses at Berea College, Cumberland College, Eastern Kentucky University, Indiana University Bloomington, Lindsey Wilson College, Morehead State University, Spalding University and the University of Kentucky.