Virtual Fall Literary Events: A discussion with award-winning writers Kiese Laymon and Crystal Wilkinson

Kiese Laymon and Crystal Wilkinson

On Nov. 19, Jeremy Jones, Spring Literary Festival Director and English Professor at Western Carolina University, had a virtual chat with award-winning authors, Kiese Laymon, a writer from Jackson Mississipi whose memoir, “Heavy” won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in nonfiction, along with several other honors and Crystal Wilkinson, an author from Eastern Kentucky, whose novel “The Birds of Opulence” won the 2016 Ernest J. Gains prize for literary excellence. Both authors have forthcoming works that will be published in 2021.

The chat was a concluding event, following several conversations held this semester between the English Department and varying authors.

The authors discussed first meeting each other and reminisced on how Crystal Wilkinson published Kiese Laymon’s first essay back in 2011. From there, the conversation branched off into the shared experiences between Wilkinson and Laymon of racial discrimination in Indiana upon being hired for separate jobs there.

Though Wilkinson and Laymon were in completely separate positions, the discussion touched on how the racial discrimination in Indiana seemed far worse than in Laymon’s home state of Mississippi or Wilkinson’s home state of Kentucky.

Kiese Laymon was very vocal in the discussion on how Crystal Wilkinson’s writings on the discrimination in Indiana influenced him heavily and helped him to navigate his way through his time in Indiana.

The conversation between the two authors then shifted to a general them of what home was to the authors and whether or not anyone could really get away from their home. Wilkinson discussed a boom of the Affrilachian writing genre and the recognition of African American female writers in her home state of Kentucky, and how that influenced her thoughts on the place, she called home.

“I think we just accept the beautiful and ugly nature of what home is,” Wilkinson stated, as she voiced her opinion on how to love home, even with its flaws and misgivings. Kiese Laymon later asked if there was a way, specifically relating to authors, for someone to leave their homeland but still be connected and still care about their roots.

“Yes. It’s in the heart and gut to remember and care about your home, and that comes forward in characters even if not obviously,” answered Crystal Wilkinson, also going so far as to say that if not all, then most of her characters all have a background in Kentucky or are influenced by her home of Kentucky.

After a lengthy discussion on trying to back to one’s home, whether physically or mentally, the two authors ended their conversation on the topic of aging and success as authors. The two could agree that though income is an important aspect of living and working in America, both Laymon and Wilkinson just want a way to create their art and reach their audience.