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are almost Southern but not northern at all. There are white
folks here like everywhere but Stanford's black children thrive
here on this street. We are tucked snug down in these deep brown
pockets. This street is our homeland.
the summer you will see our cinnamon sons, our dusky daughters
playing in the street or wallowing in plastic swimming pools in
our backyards. Girls with Chinese jump ropes fashioned from a
long string of rubber bands or hula hoops swirling around their
hips. Boys playing peggy bounce or kickball. You will smell the
smoke from charcoal grills. Hear the chicken and the steaks
sear. If you peep through the shrubs you might catch us some
sweltering afternoon with our sweet iced tea glasses turned up
and our bellies full of saucy baby-back ribs, collards or kale
fresh from our gardens, roasted corn on the cob or home-made
potato salad. We'll even share some if you like. We are that
kind of people
are flowers in our mother's gardens. Vegetables too. Zenias and
okra. Big boy tomatoes and bright sunshine squash. Begonias and
potatoes. Sunflowers and runner beans.
in these times our mahogany and oak-cast children ride bicycles
along our street. They take long walks into town to Durham's
Grocery to feast on barbeque potato chips, red pop and
fudgesicle bars. They are not bad children but they are
accustomed to being shooed from neighboring fields. Still
somehow they always escape with an acceptable stash of green
apples or juicy red tomatoes. Our teenagers lay on their backs
at night and talk to each other and the stars right out in the
street up on the hill. Katydid and cricket symphonies sprinkle
the dark of night here. We have street lights but we are not
quite country. Not city at all.
the winter, grandmothers quilt the way their mother's mothers
taught them to. Pots are full of home-made chili and vegetable
soup made with summer's backyard bounty. Children sled and have
neighborhood snow ball fights. We have hot chocolate get
togethers and coffee sharing evenings in each other's living
men are one generation removed from farming but they still wear
their farmer's clothes underneath work uniforms to remember
where they're from. We still know the old folks' ways even if we
keep it to ourselves. When the town trucks don't make it up here
to salt our street, we are content with being snowed in, knowing
we still have our father's fathers ways to keep us safe and warm
Street is a place where mothers can turn their backs to flip a
pancake or hoecake on the stove and know our children are safe.
We are a hardworking bunch. Each morning if you were a hawk
soaring in our beautiful sky you would see the yellow bus that
scoops up our children and takes them to school and you could
see our cars departing to factories, to beauty shops, to
offices, to the neighboring towns.
are the people who fix the street lights, ring up the groceries
or the new clothes. We keep the books straight. We nurse the
sick. We sew buttons. We answer the phone. We deliver the mail.
Deliver the truck loads. We keep the factories running. We type
the papers. Run the office. We teach the kids. Because there is
not always work nearby some of us migrate to Danville, to
Somerset, to Lexington, even Louisville. Sometimes we are on the
road for hours a day but feel at ease when we go home. It's a
choice we've made because we love our clean street, pristine
yards, comfortable porches. We are safe here. We are plain and
we are fancy.
love being close to the people we've known since we entered the
world. And we hate it. Everybody knows your name here. Everyone
has committed the long lists of your kin to memory.
are a God-fearing people. Baptists mostly. We attend church
every Sunday. Some of us still worship where our parent's
parents received the Lord. On Water Street, every person has at
least two stories to tell. One story that the light of day
shines on and the other that lives only in the pitch black of
night, the kind of story that a person carries beneath their
breastbones for safekeeping.
* * *
Street examines the secret lives of neighbors and friends who live on
Water Street. Love and truth and tragedy are revealed under Wilkinson's
sure hand. This is a superb, cohesive work which marks Ms. Wilkinson's
evolution as a gifted observer and writer.
out more about her at www.crystalwilkinson.com
* * * *
Wilkinson was born in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1962 and raised in Indian
Creek, Kentucky with her grandparents, Silas and Christine
Wilkinson, took her into their care when she was six weeks old.
Often describing herself as a country girl, Wilkinson's work
reflects a love and homage to her Appalachian roots. She recalls
growing up on her grandparent's farm where her grandfather planted
tobacco and corn and made sorghum molasses and her grandmother
worked as a domestic worker for school teachers in the county.
"I lived an enchanted childhood," Crystal says in
remembering her days roaming the knobs and hills of her home.
"My grandparents gave me the freedom to explore the
countryside and to write, to dream, to discover. They wanted me to
have things that they didn't have, to know things they didn't
know. But whether they knew
it or not, they WERE the wisest people I have ever known. I learned so
much from them about nature, about art, about life."
One of the first
generations of her family to attend college, Crystal graduated from
Eastern Kentucky University with a B.A. in journalism and worked for
many years as a public relations professional in and around
Lexington, Kentucky. After a long career in public relations, Wilkinson
became assistant director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and
Learning in Lexington, where she served as writing mentor and taught
creative writing classes for the center. She is a former chair of the
creative writing department for the Kentucky Governor School for the
Arts and has taught creative writing at the University of Kentucky. She
is currently Writer in Residence at Eastern Kentucky University.
Crystal is the
2002 recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature and is a
member of a Lexington-based writing collective, The Affrilachian Poets.
She has presented workshops and readings throughout the country
including the Sixth International Conference on the Short Story in
English at the University of Iowa and the African American Women Writers
Conference at the University of the District of Columbia.
She is the author
of two books,
Blackberries (July 2000), and
Street (September 2002), both published by Toby
Press. In 2001 Blackberries, Blackberries was named Best Debut
Fiction by Today's Librarian Magazine. She has been published in the
Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes: Back Talk from an
American Region (University of Kentucky Press 1999);
Gifts from Our
Grandmothers (Crown Publishers, a Division of Random House, May
2000); Eclipsing A Nappy New Millennium (Purdue University,
1998); Home and Beyond: An
Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories (University of
Kentucky Press 2001);
A Kentucky Christmas (University Press of Kentucky
2003). Her work has also appeared in various literary journals
including: Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Southern
Exposure, The Briar Cliff Review, LIT, Calyx, African
Voices, and the Indiana Review.
She is currently
working on two first novels simultaneously, A Good Rain and Man Crazy.
She lives in Lexington with her three children.
First posted 2004
* * *
update 21 November 2010