The Birds of Opulence Book Discussions

Out of Opulence: An Evening with Crystal Wilkinson, Wiley Cash and DaMaris Hill


Kentucky Humanities is pleased to announce the 2021 Kentucky Reads selection is The Birds of Opulence, by Crystal Wilkinson. 

About the book:
A lyrical exploration of love and loss, The Birds of Opulence centers on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness. The Goode-Brown family, led by matriarch and pillar of the community Minnie Mae, is plagued by old secrets and embarrassment over mental illness and illegitimacy. Meanwhile, single mother Francine Clark is haunted by her dead, lightning-struck husband and forced to fight against both the moral judgment of the community and her own rebellious daughter, Mona. The residents of Opulence struggle with vexing relationships to the land, to one another, and to their own sexuality. As the members of the youngest generation watch their mothers and grandmothers pass away, they live with the fear of going mad themselves and must fight to survive. Crystal Wilkinson offers up Opulence and its people in lush, poetic detail. It is a world of magic, conjuring, signs, and spells, but also of harsh realities that only love—and love that’s handed down—can conquer. At once tragic and hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own.
About the Author:
Crystal Wilkinson, Associate Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, is the award-winning author of The Birds of Opulence (winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence), Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. Nominated for both the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, she has received recognition from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Kentucky Arts Council, The Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and is a recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in the Oxford American and Southern Cultures. Wilkinson has an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University and a BA in Journalism from Eastern Kentucky University.
Booking Fee:
The booking fee for your organization is only $50. Kentucky Humanities will supplement the remaining cost of the program. Each host organization will be provided with 15 copies of the novel to share among participating members and publicity materials to promote your discussion. Kentucky Humanities will pay an honorarium to the discussion leader (you choose) below to lead your book discussion. Or you can choose to find your own book discussion leader and your organization will pay that leader or he/she will donate his/her time to serve as a discussion leader.
Any nonprofit organization in Kentucky can host this program, including libraries, historical societies, churches, prisons, veterans’ groups, museums, book clubs, etc. These programs will be awarded on a first-come first-served basis and must take place between February 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021.
Social Media hashtags: #KyReads, #Kyhumanities, #NEH

How to host book a discussion

  1. Decide your organization would like to host a book discussion of The Birds of Opulence.
  2. Select who will serve as your scholar to lead a discussion about the book and relevant topics.
  3. Contact the scholar and set a date, time, and location for your group discussion and discuss any special arrangements.
  4. Book the program using the online booking form at least 6 weeks in advance beginning January 1, 2021 and pay the $50 booking fee.
  5. Kentucky Humanities will send you an agreement to sign and return.
  6. Kentucky Humanities will also send 10 flyers, 50 postcards, and 15 copies of Birds of Opulence to promote your event.
  7. Publicize your book discussion once it has been approved using the supplied materials.
  8. Host your discussion and have participants complete the provided evaluation forms.
  9. Complete the program coordinator's report.
  10. Return evaluation forms to Kentucky Humanities within 2 weeks of your program taking place..

Scholars Available

  1. Brian Clardy,, (270) 226-5064, Murray, KY. Brian is a History Professor at Murray State University and a Board Member of Kentucky Humanities.
  2. Elizabeth Glass,, (502) 552-0088, Louisville, KY. 

    Elizabeth Glass earned her PhD in Humanities from the University of Louisville. She is a scholar, creative writer, and teacher. She has received an Emerging Artist Award in Nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council and a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and has presented on The Birds of Opulence at conferences throughout the country.

  3. DaMaris B. Hill,, (859) 903-5597, Lexington, KY.  DaMaris B. Hill is the author of A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland, The Fluid Boundaries of Suffrage and Jim Crow: Staking Claims in the American Heartland\Vi-z-bl\   \Teks-chrs\(Visible Textures). Similar to her creative process, Hill’s scholarly research is interdisciplinary. Hill is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky. 

  4. Mauri E. Systo,, (202) 906-9000, Marion, KY.  Mauri E. Systo is a University of Kentucky alumni who earned her PhD in Anthropology.  Her research is conducted in the Southeast United States and Southern Appalachia, with a focus on economic justice, labor, and social inequalities. 
  5. Jayne Moore Waldrop,, (859) 494-8262, Lexington, KY. Jayne Moore Waldrop is a writer, attorney, and author of Retracing My Steps, a finalist in the New Women's Voices Chapbook Competition (Finishing Line Press 2019). She has two books forthcoming in 2021, a linked story collection, Drowned Town (University Press of Kentucky) and a poetry collection, Pandemic Lent: A Season in Poetry (Finishing Line Press). She's a former book columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal and literary liaison at the Carnegie Center of Literacy and Learning in Lexington.
  6. Marianne Worthington,, (606) 521-7115, Williamsburg, KY.  Marianne Worthington is a poet, editor, and educator living in southeastern Kentucky. She co-founded the online literary magazine Still: The Journal in 2009 and serves as its poetry editor. She wrote the "Afterword" for the republication of Crystal Wilkinson's Water Street (2017) and presented an oral history of Wilkinson for the annual Emory & Henry Literary Festival (2017).

Organizations are not limited to these scholars.


The 2020 book selection was Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Because of COVID, many of these book discussions were postponed or took place virtually. The schedule remains below as some of these events are still taking place the first part of 20201. It is not too late to read Hannah Coulter and join one of these book discussions.
HANNAH COULTER Book Discussion Schedule (as of 8/27/2020)
Kentucky Humanities is making available a discussion guide for the 2020 Kentucky Reads program. Thank you to Dr. Morris Grubbs of the University of Kentucky for writing much of the content for this guide. Download a copy of this guide here.