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Crystal Wilkinson honored as a 2023-24 University Research Professor

By Lindsey Piercy 

Crystal WilkinsonLEXINGTON, Ky. (June 30, 2023)  Crystal Wilkinson, a professor in the Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky, is one of 16 University Research Professors for 2023-24.  

The University Research Professorships honor faculty members who have demonstrated excellence that addresses scientific, social, cultural and economic challenges in our region and around the world.  

College leadership develop criteria for excellence within their area of expertise and then nominate faculty who excelled at these criteria. Each University Research Professor receives a one-year award of $10,000.   

“It is a great honor to be among such a range of talented professors. I’m looking forward to getting to know my fellow research professor cohorts and also digging into my own work," Wilkinson said. "I’m grateful to my department, the College of Arts and Sciences and the university for this tremendous support.”

As the first Black woman to hold the appointment of Poet Laureate of Kentucky, Wilkinson serves as an inspiration to young people with an eye toward a career in writing, while also connecting with senior community members. 

Her research and work primarily focuses on the stories of Black women and communities in the Appalachian and rural Southern canon. 

Wilkinson is the author of “Perfect Black,” NAACP Image Award winner; “The Birds of Opulence,” winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award; “Blackberries, Blackberries,” winner of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature; and “Water Street,” a finalist for both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She also is the winner of a 2020 USA Artist Fellowship.   

Wilkinson, who was recently named the Bush-Holbrook Endowed Chair of Engligh, has won an O. Henry Prize in fiction. Her short stories, poems and essays have also appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the Oxford American and Southern Cultures. 

Wilkinson has also received recognition from the Yaddo Foundation, Hedgebrook, The Vermont Studio Center for the Arts, The Hermitage Foundation and others. 

In the summer of 2018, “The Birds of Opulence” was included in Book Benches: A Tribute to Kentucky Authors, a collaboration between Arts Connect, LexArts and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. The public art project featured 36 functional, book-shaped benches — each illustrated and themed around a different work by a Kentucky author. The benches were placed throughout Lexington to encourage reading and provide a place for rest. Wilkinson’s bench was installed along South Limestone in front of the University Press of Kentucky office. 

Wilkinson's “Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts,” a culinary memoir, is forthcoming from Clarkson Potter/Penguin Random House in January.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.