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Author and Poet Crystal Wilkinson

Author and Poet Crystal Wilkinson

Affrilachian poet and author Crystal Wilkinson talks about her first novel, "The Birds of Opulence," that tackles the issue of mental illness and the plight of the African American female experience in the South.
S11 E26 Length 28:01 Premiere: 4.22.16

Author and Poet Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson doesn’t appreciate the term “crazy black woman” because of the negative stereotypes it connotes, and because her mother was institutionalized for mental illness.

In her new book, the Kentucky writer and poet explores this potentially uncomfortable territory. “The Birds of Opulence” follows multiple generations of African American women in a small southern town as they grapple with complex relationships and their own fears about going mad. Wilkinson appeared on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw to discuss the novel, her poetry, and owning a Lexington bookstore.

“The legacy of the crazy woman’s daughter, I’ve lived with my whole life,” says Wilkinson.

Two years before she was born, Wilkinson’s mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Over a 10-year period, she was institutionalized eight different times. When Wilkinson had her own battle with depression when she was a young working mother, she wondered if she too would fall into mental illness.

But as she wrote her novel, Wilkinson says she came to forgive her mother, and recognize that her illness was something that she couldn’t control. And she began to wonder why society treats those with mental health problems differently than it does someone with cancer or diabetes. Wilkinson says she hopes her book will inform readers about mental illness and inspire them to openly discuss the issue with their own family and friends.

“It’s a novel and it’s there for your entertainment, but it’s also there for your edutainment,” Wilkinson says. “I think that it provides a platform in which we can have lots of sister circles and brother circles to talk about this.”

Rooted in a Unique Appalachian Culture
“The Birds of Opulence” is Wilkinson’s third book, and first novel. Her short story collections “Blackberries, Blackberries” and “Water Street” also explore life in small southern towns not unlike the community in Casey County, Ky., where she was raised. Growing up in a predominately white region of western Appalachia meant Wilkinson lived a life that was very different than African Americans raised in the Deep South.

“It’s not the same as the archetype of the southern black experience, and it’s certainly not the same as the archetype of the white Appalachian experience,” Wilkinson says. “It’s sort of a unique culture that’s very much still alive.”

For Wilkinson, it was a culture that was also tinged with racism. In her poem “Dear Johnny P,” Wilkinson describes returning to her hometown and encountering an old classmate who had mocked her Afro, skin color, and black pride when they were children.

You said, Remember me?
Looked me straight in the eye, my children stood behind me waiting,
Extended your hand,
You touched my hand? That same hand you feared would turn you black?
And I laughed,
Wondered if you would run home to wash it clean,
If you would check to make sure you was still white…

I stood rigid, proud, black…
I saw the half-hearted, guilt-ridden apology creeping from your eyes,
Saw some sorrow,
But I wanted to hear it.
Hear from your white mouth to my black ears, but you couldn’t, wouldn’t say it. But I know you remember, Johnny P,
Just like I do.
I know you remember
.

Wilkinson says if she were to write about that incident today, she would likely rely more on metaphor to relate the experience rather than describe it like “ripping a scab off” a wound. She says age, maturity, and writing have helped her focus on her love for her hometown family, teachers, and church without letting the racism she encountered color those memories. And Wilkinson says being a poet and a novelist play different roles in that process.

“Fiction allows me a platform in which to tell a particular truth in a particular way,” Wilkinson says. “Poetry for me is that entering [of] the wound… entering the emotion and giving you a slice of it.”

From Writing to Bookselling to Community Engagement
Wilkinson studied journalism at Eastern Kentucky University and got her MFA at Spalding University in Louisville. Along the way, she also joined with other writers of Appalachian descent to form The Affrilachian Poets, a group that celebrates the diverse cultures of the region.

She’s now an Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College and teaches at Spalding, as well as giving workshops around the country. And she and her partner Ron Davis are the proud owners of a bookstore.

“We call it the literary country store,” Wilkinson says of Wild Fig Books & Coffee in the North Limestone Street neighborhood of Lexington called NoLi. She says it’s a place where patrons can spend money, but she also wants the shop to host community discussions about important issues ranging from the state budget to LBGTQ rights.

“We wanted to do something different than other bookstores are doing, so we developed a salon series,” Wilkinson says. “So when people come, we want to have conversation about many of the hard subjects.”

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Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker - S9 E21

Frank X Walker, named Kentucky's 2013-14 poet laureate, talks about his latest collection, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, and other works and projects.

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50th Anniversary of the March on Frankfort - S9 E22

Renee discusses the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort with historians and participants including: NAACP Louisville leader Raoul Cunningham and former state Senator Georgia Davis Powers.

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Aaron Thompson - S9 E26

Aaron Thompson, executive vice president and chief academic officer of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, discusses the state budget for higher education and the impact on student tuition.

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Early Childhood Development Initiatives in Louisville

Renee Shaw speaks with Kevin Fields, president and CEO of the Louisville Central Community Centers, Inc., and pediatrician Dr. Beverly M. Gaines, president and CEO of Beverly M. Gaines M.D. and Associates, about a collaboration to enhance early childhood learning experiences.

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Filmmaker Elizabeth Helm-Frazier

Renee Shaw talks with film producer and veteran Elizabeth Helm-Frazier about the only all-Black Women's Army Corps (WACs) battalion to serve overseas during World War II. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was sent to Europe to clear a backlog of millions of pieces of mail, ensuring American troops received letters from home. A new documentary called "The Six Triple Eight" honors their legacy and service.

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Dr. Janet Taylor - S9 E29

Renee speaks with Dr. Janet Taylor, psychiatrist, certified life coach, and national commentator on work-life balance and mental health issues.

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Djuan Trent - S9 E30

Former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent talks about her decision come out as a gay woman, reaction from family and friends, her activism in advancing gay rights and marriage, and more.

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Hasan Davis - S9 E31

Renee speaks with former Kentucky Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Hasan Davis, about recent juvenile justice reform. Davis was featured in the recent PBS Frontline program "Prison State," about Kentucky's correction system, and interviewed for KET's follow-up program, Prison State: A Kentucky Community Conversation.

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Prison Reform In Kentucky - S9 E32

Renee continues the discussion about Kentucky prison reform recently highlighted on the PBS Frontline program "Prison State." Her guests are: Mark Bolton, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections; Sheila Schuster, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and mental health advocate; and Ray Larson, Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney.

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Connections

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Ted Strader - COPES - S9 E33

Ted Strader, the director of the Council on Prevention and Education: Substances, Inc. (COPES) in Louisville, discusses how partnering agencies with the corrections system can help former inmates with successful re-entry into society.

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Colene Elridge - S9 E34

Renee speaks with human resources professional and life coach Colene Elridge, better known as Coach Colene, owner of Be More Consulting.

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Rape Culture - S9 E35

Renee's guests are Mae Suramek, executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center and Rus Funk, executive director of MensWork- Eliminating Violence Against Women.

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Betsy Johnson, Saundra Ardrey

Host Renee Shaw speaks with Kentucky lawyer, Betsy Johnson, who once argued a case before the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Then, Renee speaks with Western Kentucky University Political Science professor Saundra Ardrey about the legacy of Justice Ginsburg, the centennial anniversary of women's suffrage, and racial unrest in light of recent police-involved killings of African Americans.

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Mental Health Courts - S9 E36

Kelly Gunning, director of advocacy and public policy, NAMI Lexington (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and Public Defender Jon Landon, discuss mental health laws in Kentucky.

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Dr. Timothy M. Houchin - S9 E37

Renee speaks with Lexington psychiatrist Dr. Timothy M. Houchin about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Houchin is a board-certified adult, child/adolescent, and forensic psychiatrist, and the founder and president of 360 Mental Health Services in Lexington.

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Connections

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Charisse Gillett - Lexington Theological Seminary - S9 E38

Renee speaks with Dr. Charisse Gillett, president of the Lexington Theological Seminary. Dr. Gillett is the first woman and first African-American selected to lead the seminary.

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African Americans and Mental Health - S9 E39

Renee speaks with Sycarah Fisher, associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky, and Shambra Mulder, an assistant professor in the School of Education at Kentucky State University.

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Wil James - S9 E40

Renee talks with Wil James, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Kentucky.

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Dr. Robert Hilgers - S9 E41

Renee speaks with Dr. Robert Hilgers, founder and president of the Global Women's Cancer Alliance (WGCA). The WGCA works to advance women's health, addressing particularly those in need of cancer care in developing countries.

  • Thursday August 26, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
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Judi Jennings - S9 E42

Renee's guest is Judi Jennings, former executive director of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, feminist art advocate, and writer.

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Marta Miranda - S9 E43

Renee speaks with Marta Miranda, chief empowerment officer of the Center for Women and Families in Louisville.

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SWAG - Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence - S9 E44

Lexington moms LaTosha Reynolds and Tonya Lindsey talk about losing their sons to gun violence and how the group they founded, SWAG - Sisters and Supporters Working Against Gun Violence, is working to keep youth safe.

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Frontier Nursing University - S9 E45

Drs. Susan Stone and Julie Marfell of Frontier Nursing University discuss the institution's 75-year legacy as the longest continually-operating and largest midwifery program in the nation.

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Tanya Torp and Holly Houston - S9 E46

Community Activist Tanya Torp, program director for Step by Step, a mentoring ministry for at risk single mothers, and Holly Houston, a family court lawyer and co-founder of GLOW - Greater Louisville Outstanding Women, discuss social justice, youth empowerment, leadership development, and girl power.

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Chris Rabb - S10 E1

Chris Rabb, author of Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity, explores how behind-the-scenes factors - human, cultural, and social capital - affect whether a business will be successful.

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Vershawn A. Young - S9 E20

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Early Childhood Development Initiatives in Louisville

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History Maker; Tuskegee Airmen History - S9 E14

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Middle Class Struggles and Poverty - S9 E13

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The Forgotten Minority - S9 E12

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Human Trafficking - S9 E11

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Diabetes Prevention and Control - S9 E10

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Innocence Project - S9 E9

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Pop Culture and Commodification of Women - S9 E8

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Ruth Brinkley - KentuckyOne Health - S9 E5

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Malcolm Ratchford - S9 E4

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Roszalyn Akins - S9 E3

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Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack

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  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Betty Baye - S9 E1

  • Friday July 16, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 16, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness - S13 E43

  • Thursday July 15, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 15, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 15, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 15, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing - S13 E42

  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 14, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy - S13 E35

  • Tuesday July 13, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 13, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 13, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 13, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 13, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 13, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Monday July 12, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 12, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sarah Taylor Vanover - Early Childhood Education

  • Saturday July 17, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 17, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 11, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 11:00 am CT on KET

Dr. Donna Grigsby - S13 E28

  • Friday July 9, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 9, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kosair Charities Face It Movement; Terry Brooks - S13 E25

  • Thursday July 8, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 8, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 8, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 8, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Child Marriage Laws in Kentucky - Donna Pollard - S13 E24

  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 7, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - S13 E23

  • Tuesday July 6, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 6, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 6, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 6, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Educational Innovation - S13 E21

  • Monday July 5, 2021 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 5, 2021 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Boone Co. Judge Executive Gary Moore

  • Saturday July 10, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 10, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 4, 2021 7:00 am CT on KETKY

The Demands and Rewards of Fatherhood

  • Saturday July 3, 2021 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 3, 2021 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
Top

Season 11 Episodes

Businessman Phil Wilkins

S11 E43 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 8.19.16

Training Business Leaders

S11 E42 Length 26:21 Premiere Date 8.12.16

NBA Great Dominique Wilkins

S11 E41 Length 27:47 Premiere Date 8.5.16

DEA Agent Gary Tuggle

S11 E40 Length 27:47 Premiere Date 7.29.16

Addiction and Public Health Reform

S11 E39 Length 29:11 Premiere Date 7.22.16

Addiction and the Criminal Justice System

S11 E38 Length 28:21 Premiere Date 7.15.16

Addiction in Rural Communities

S11 E37 Length 29:26 Premiere Date 7.7.16

Addiction and Mental Health

S11 E36 Length 29:06 Premiere Date 7.1.16

Recovery Services for Inmates

S11 E35 Length 28:26 Premiere Date 6.24.16

Veterans Treatment Court

S11 E34 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 6.17.16

Opioid Epidemic in Northern Ky.

S11 E33 Length 27:21 Premiere Date 6.10.16

Treatment Models for Addiction

S11 E32 Length 27:51 Premiere Date 6.3.16

Jazz Vocalist Jessie Laine Powell

S11 E31 Length 28:11 Premiere Date 5.27.16

Kentucky Oral Health Coalition

S11 E30 Length 28:21 Premiere Date 5.20.16

Dr. Kishonna Gray on Gaming

S11 E29 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 5.13.16

Advocating for Victims Rights

S11 E28 Length 28:46 Premiere Date 5.6.16

Advice for Parents on Coping Techniques

S11 E27 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 4.29.16

Author and Poet Crystal Wilkinson

S11 E26 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 4.22.16

Secretary Grimes on Voting Access

S11 E25 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 4.15.16

Child Abuse and Neglect

S11 E24 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 4.8.16

Overcoming Eating Disorders

S11 E21 Length 28:59 Premiere Date 2.26.16

Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton

S11 E19 Length 28:16 Premiere Date 2.12.16

Remembering Georgia Davis Powers

S11 E18 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 2.5.16

Giving Students a Voice

S11 E17 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 1.29.16

Addressing Youth Violence

S11 E16 Length 28:11 Premiere Date 1.22.16

Professor Wayne Lewis

S11 E15 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 1.15.16

Ed. Commissioner Stephen Pruitt

S11 E14 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 1.8.16

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams

S11 E13 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 1.1.16

Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear

S11 E11 Length 28:57 Premiere Date 12.11.15

Miss Kentucky Clark Davis

S11 E10 Length 29:03 Premiere Date 11.20.15

Ari Berman on Voting Rights

S11 E9 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 11.13.15

Poet Allison Joseph

S11 E8 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 11.6.15

Journalist Dorothy Gilliam

S11 E7 Length 28:41 Premiere Date 10.30.15

Author Jacinda Townsend

S11 E6 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 10.9.15

Kellie Blair Hardt

S11 E5 Length 28:16 Premiere Date 10.2.15

Childhood Cancer

S11 E4 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 9.25.15

Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia

S11 E3 Length 28:11 Premiere Date 9.18.15

Manny Caulk

S11 E2 Length 28:09 Premiere Date 9.11.15

25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

S11 E1 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 9.3.15

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