Nationally renowned author and Kentucky native, Crystal Wilkinson, published Water Street in 2004. The composite novel is a series of tableaux of small town life and community. Wilkinson visits Sounds Good to discuss her short stories and her upcoming presentation at the West Kentucky Community & Technical College.
From Water Street's book sleeve:
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. Water Street examines the secret lives of neighbors and friends who live on Water Street in a small town in Kentucky. 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.
Wilkinson grew up as a self-described "country girl" in Indian Creek, Kentucky. Her familiarity with the Appalachian landscape has carried over into several of her award-winning works, Water Street being no exception. Water Street was a finalist for both the Orange Prize of Fiction and the Hurston/Wright Legacy award. Her novel, Birds of Opulence, won the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and a collection of short stories, Blackberries, Blackberries, won the 2002 Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. In May of 2018, she was named the Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer-in-Residence by the Creative Writing program at Murray State University. Wilkinson's connection to Appalachia has allowed her to highlight the unique landscapes and communities therein within her works. "I think what's unique about Kentucky, and what's unique about Appalachia," Wilkinson explains, "is the sense of communalism, the idea of communal memory."
Communal memory is used to emphasize both the differences and the interwoven nature of individuals living on Water Street. While the street itself is set in Kentucky, Wilkinson commented on the stories' undeniable universality. "I think part of it's the form. Everyone knows what it's like to live in a neighborhood or live in a place. That could be anywhere in the world. Everyone knows what it's like to have one set of stories that people make public, and then to have a set of private stories that are held private - be that in the individual, within the family, within the neighborhood, within the church. You could take any communal construct and put that concept with it. I think it rings true across races, across cultural backgrounds, and across geographical backgrounds."
Wilkinson will present Water Street as the culmination of WKCTC's One Book Read series, a program formed to promote literacy on campus and within the surrounding community. The presentation will take place on WKCTC's campus on both March 12th and 13th. The One Book Read schedule is as follows:
March 12th, 6 PM: Opening Reception, Student Center
March 12th, 7 PM: Public Presentation and Q&A, Clemens Theatre
March 12th, 8:15 PM: Book Signing, Clemens Theatre
March 13th, 11 AM: WKCTC Student Presentation, Clemens Theatre
Throughout a series of short stories, Wilkinson has successfully created overarching themes of community, internal and external struggles, love, and an homage to the rolling hills of Appalachia. Wilkinson attributes the connectivity of Water Street to the short story form itself. "I think it's one of the most beautiful literary forms we have," says Wilkinson. "I think that the short story in itself is sort of akin to the poem, how you have these concrete images on top and this meaning running through."