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Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson wins a NAACP Image Award

A woman with a colorful blouse, statement necklace and glasses poses for a professional headshot.
Stacie Pottinger
Rogue Studios
Crystal Wilkinson

Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson has received a 2022 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Poetry. 

She won the honor for her latest book “Perfect Black.”

On Twitter, Wilkinson said, “I'm in shock and I'm grateful.”

The NAACP Image Awards acknowledge the accomplishments and performances of Black people and people of color annually. There are more than 80 categories. 

Other 2022 awardees include actor Will Smith, New York Times reporter and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, civil rights activist and politician Stacey Abrams, and the late actress Cicely Tyson.

“Perfect Black” is a nod toward Wilkinson’s rural Appalachian roots.

Last April, Wilkinsontold WFPL News her book “Perfect Black” is in three sections. 

“The first section is sort of girlhood poems. They speak about my growing up, or the speaker of the poem is very close to me, if it’s not me,” she said. “The second section is about sort of maturation, becoming a woman. And then the third section is sort of about political consciousness or a woman’s consciousness.”

Wilkinson, who has long identified as a fiction writer, also said, “writing poetry frightens me.”

“But I’ve also always written poetry, and so it sort of frightens me because I think there’s a certain vulnerability that comes out in a poem that you can sort of mask with fiction, you can sort of cover it up in fiction,” she said. “So I feel very excited about these poems being in the world.”

“Perfect Black” also earned Wilkinson last year’s Thomas D. Clark Medallion Award, given toward literary achievements that showcase Kentucky culture and history. 

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear named Wilkinson, who also is an associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, the state poet laureate last spring. 

Ahead of her induction ceremony, Wilkinson told WFPL News a priority for her during her two-year term as poet laureate is to uplift the members of Kentucky’s robust literary community, both already established writers and those who haven’t been published yet.

Editor's note: Wilkinson is currently working on a podcast with WFPL's parent organization, Louisville Public Media.