Crystal Wilkinson’s debut novel, The Birds of Opulence, received the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Her other works include the short-story collections Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street. Wilkinson co-owns, with her partner, artist Ronald Davis, the Wild Fig Books & Coffee in Lexington, Kentucky.
A Writing on Writing essay from the 100th issue.
I found myself in Jones’s writing. Kentucky. Black. Rural. Woman. I was especially taken with how she drew characters from the oral storytelling tradition and then broadened that form into her own literary style. I saw Jones’s act of making black speech the core of her work as revolutionary.
A girl was singing in one of the houses we passed. The sound rose up on the wind and out of the brownstone and out of the window down to us on the air. This girl behind that fluttering window curtain was an odd bird whose song I craved. I walked slow and deliberate to try and catch every note. I wanted to tell Glory to hush. This moment felt important to me, like I had just discovered some world for the first time, but Glory kept talking and kept walking. Knowing that I’d miss the end of that song, that I’d never know how it ended, made me want to cry.
When Prince sang “Soft and Wet” from a 45 on my record player, the lyrics were hidden beneath the funky beat. My grandparents never knew what I was listening to. Prince and his doe eyes and big Afro and glistening lean body stared back at me from the pages of Right On! magazine. We lived far out into the woods, on a gravel road. My grandparents were farmers. Books and magazines and television told me that normal black girls did not live like this. But I did. Prince was the sex I knew nothing about. Prince sealed my fantasies about a larger world.
Thunder rattles the windows, and Lucy wakes from a restless sleep, thinking of her husband. Five days ago she gave birth in the squash patch, but for now she ignores everything else, preferring the satisfaction of old memories knocking against one another. Let the baby wait. Everyone on the other side of that bedroom door can just wait.