Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes





In 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.





Water Street

an excerpt by Crystal Wilkinson


We 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. In 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 There 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. Even 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. In 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 rooms. Our 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 and fed. Water 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. We 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. We 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. We 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.

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Water 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. Find out more about her at

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Crystal 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, Blackberries (July 2000), and Water 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 anthologies 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

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 21 November 2010



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