Born near Nesbit on 17 December 1959 to Henry Bridgforth Wilkinson and Lula Moncrief Wilkinson, poet and artist Claude Henry Wilkinson was raised on a small farm with his three older sisters, Bernadette, Juliette, and Ernelle. Wilkinson received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Mississippi in 1981 and a master’s degree in English from the University of Memphis nine years later.
Wilkinson’s first book, Reading the Earth (1998), a collection of forty-four poems, garnered critical praise and won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. Soon thereafter, he received the 1999 Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the 2000 Whiting Writers’ Award. In 2000–01 Wilkinson became the first poet to serve as the John and Renée Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. Wilkinson’s second book of poetry, Joy in the Morning (2004), also received favorable reviews.
One critic describes Wilkinson’s poetry as possessing “nature’s delicate details and memory’s refining power.” Wilkinson opens both Reading the Earth and Joy in the Morning with epigraphs taken from the Bible, setting the tone for the work that follows. Biblical allusions are numerous in Wilkinson’s works, as are images taken from the natural world; references to Jericho, Noah and his ark, and the Book of Revelation are hidden amid images of blackbirds and kookaburras. In “Knell” the speaker quietly confronts God following the illness and death of his mother while taking in the quietness and solitude of a southern night. Wilkinson’s vision of the South features Spanish moss and cypress trees and family memories, yet a commanding presence hides behind these seemingly innocuous descriptions. His poetry has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Oxford American, and Southern Review and has been included in several anthologies.
Wilkinson has also published criticism on the work of such writers as Chinua Achebe, Italo Calvino, and John Cheever and taught English courses at a variety of colleges and universities, including Lane College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Christian Brothers University, and Mississippi Valley State University. In addition, he is a highly praised visual artist whose paintings demonstrate the same “quiet intensity and wide-ranging talents” that his poetry possesses.
- Ethel Brooks, The Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project of Starkville High School (May 2001)
- Deidra Jackson, Southern Register (Spring–Summer 2001, Winter 2001)
- Mississippi Writers and Musicians website, www.mswritersandmusicians.com
- Prabook website, prabook.com