Kentucky writer, poet and educator Crystal Wilkinson’s novel, “Birds of Opulence,” has been named winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. The award will be presented to Wilkinson at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Manship Theatre in downtown Baton Rouge. The ceremony is free and open to the public, although reservations are requested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now in its 10th year, the Gaines Award is a $10,000 prize handed out annually by Baton Rouge Area Foundation donors to recognize outstanding work from rising African-American fiction writers while honoring Louisiana native Ernest Gaines’ contribution to the literary world.
“Birds of Opulence” is Wilkinson’s first novel, although “Blackberries, Blackberries,” a collection of short stories, won the 2002 Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature and “Water Street,” another short-story collection, was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the U.K.’s Orange Prize for Fiction.
Wilkinson earned a journalism degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 1985 and a master’s degree in fine arts for creative writing from Spalding University in Louisville. As an educator, she has taught creative writing at Eastern Kentucky, Indiana University-Bloomington and Morehead State University. Currently, she serves as writer in residence at Berea College in Kentucky.
“Birds of Opulence” follows several generations of women in the Goode-Brown family in the fictional Southern black township of Opulence. The family is plagued by mental illness and illegitimacy, as well as the accompanying embarrassment. As younger generations watch their mothers and grandmothers pass on, they also fear going mad and must fight to survive.
The national panel of judges for the 2016 Gaines Award are: Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winner for his 2003 novel, “The Known World;” Anthony Grooms, an author and creative writing professor at Kennesaw State University; author Elizabeth Nunez, professor of English at Hunter College-City University of New York; Francine Prose, author of more than 20 books, including “Blue Angel,” a nominee for the 2000 National Book Award; and Patricia Towers, former features editor for O, The Oprah Magazine and a founding editor of Vanity Fair magazine.
Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of several Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at email@example.com.