Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Crystal Wilkinson, January 15, 2010

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Growing up in Indian Creek, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: It's January 15th, uh, 2010. I'm Arwen Donahue and I'm with Crystal Wilkinson in Lexington, Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about growing up at her grandparents' farm in Casey County, Kentucky, and the differences between raising children then and now.

Keywords: 1960s; Family; Grandchildren; Grandparents; Growing up; Indian Creek (Ky.); Nineteen sixties

Subjects: Casey County (Ky.); Child rearing; Childhood; Families.; Family farms; Farm life--Kentucky--Casey County

GPS: Indian Creek, Casey County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.3770203, -84.7955039
00:08:11 - Becoming and identifying as a writer

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember when you first said to yourself that you wanted to be a writer or you were a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about how she came to be a writer at a young age and how her grandparents supported her.

Keywords: Books; Grandchildren; Grandparents; Growing up; Reading; Writers; Writing stories

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Child rearing; Childhood; Farm life--Kentucky--Casey County; Writing

00:15:23 - Memories and realities of farming and farm life

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Partial Transcript: I think there's, there's a, um, phenomenon with farming families where, um--at least this--in my husband's family. My husband's grandparents were farmers.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson discusses the sale of her family's farm and the different feelings towards the farm between the children and the grandchildren due to the different generational experiences surrounding growing up and farm labor. She also talks about her uncle, who stills lives in Indian Creek, and discusses why she does not live there.

Keywords: Black farmers; Farming; Grandchildren; Growing up,Grandparents; Indian Creek (Ky.); Race

Subjects: African American farmers.; Child rearing; Families.; Family farms; Family--history; Farm life--Kentucky--Casey County; Generations.; Interracial marriage; Racism; Traditional farming--Kentucky

00:28:59 - Doing book readings in Casey County, Kentucky and past relationships with residents

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Partial Transcript: What's it like to read there?

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about going back to Casey County now to do book readings and what it is like to see and interact with people from her past, many of whom were not kind to her as an African American child.

Keywords: African American schoolchildren; Bullying; Growing up; Indian Creek (Ky.); Poverty; Race; School buses; Socioeconomics

Subjects: African Americans--Race identity.; Casey County (Ky.); Farm life--Kentucky--Casey County; Harassment in schools.; Race discrimination; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism

00:34:29 - Reflections on experiencing racism growing up

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Partial Transcript: Uh, there was a woman who contacted me recently that my grandmother used to clean house for for about twenty dollars a week.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about how some of her writing is based on real lived experiences from her past and how she remembers the racialized experiences involved in her grandmother's housekeeping jobs. She discusses how her grandfather was largely able to avoid the same racist experiences because of being a male and respected as a farmer.

Keywords: "Negra"; Black farmers; Domestic labors; Domestic work; Grandmothers; Women's work

Subjects: African American farmers.; African American women.; African Americans--Race identity.; Childhood; Family farms; Family--history; Housekeeping; Race discrimination; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism; Rural African Americans.

00:43:50 - Influences of memory and place on imagination and writing

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Partial Transcript: I, I have kind of a big question that I'm going to try to, um, articulate that's coming out of hearing you talk about those things and just being on the farm and having access to those wild places and how linked that was in your own experience with the forming of your imagination.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about how past places influence her writing and imagination. She particularly discusses how her experiences in Stanford, Kentucky influenced her story, "Water Street."

Keywords: "Blackberries"; "Water Street"; "Wild places"; Homes; Imaginations; Indian Creek; Losses; Memories; Rural places; Short stories

Subjects: Place attachment.; Stanford (Ky.); Writing.; Yellow Springs (Ohio)

00:56:53 - Differences in rural life

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Partial Transcript: I think that's true. I mean I think that goes with that, um, with that life and I--sometimes I feel like I am no longer a country woman, like I've lost it.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about navigating the differences between growing up in an rural area and now living in a more urban area. She talks about the differences between taking things for granted, personal responsibility, and not wasting things.

Keywords: Amish; Food origins; Foods; Outhouses; Rural; Urban

Subjects: City and town life; Country life; Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Family farms; Family--history; Kentucky--Rural conditions.

01:05:23 - "Water Street," the novel / writing difficulties

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Partial Transcript: You said something earlier that's, that's interesting about your novel and about "Water Street" and how come "Water Street" grew out of needing to have a different setting or a different place than what your novel was.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks a little about her novel, "Water Street," and the difficulty with writing from memory about a place which no longer exists in the same way.

Keywords: "Water Street"; Ancestral memory; Characters; Imaginations; Memories; Memory; Novels; Places

Subjects: Fiction; Novelists; Place attachment.; Writing

01:10:16 - African American farmers losing their farms

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Partial Transcript: I wonder if--I mean, when I imagine, um, um, with my--in my very limited capacity what it would be like to be an African American who has a background of growing up on a farm and then, and then being--not having--not being in that world anymore...

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson tells a story about the white family that now owns her grandfather's farm and discusses the demise of black farmers. She also talks about her familial graveyard.

Keywords: Black farmers; Familial lands; Farms; Grandparents; Graveyards; Losses; Race

Subjects: African American farmers.; Ancestors.; Burial; Family farms; Family--history; Nostalgia; Racism

01:19:34 - Looking at photographs

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so we're looking at pictures now.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson shows family photographs to the interviewer. She talks briefly about church, school, growing up, family, and her children as she is going through the photographs.

Keywords: "Basket meetings"; Classmates; Cousins; Family; Family reunions; Farms; Grandmothers; One room schoolhouses; Photos; Pictures

Subjects: African American families; Casey County (Ky.); Childhood; Church.; Family--history; Farm life--Kentucky--Casey County; Lincoln County (Ky.); Photographs.; Rural schools.

01:40:36 - Returning to her rural background / looking at photographs

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Partial Transcript: I, I wondered, you mentioned somewhere about, um, at some point your--you know, when you went to college you were wanting to get, get away from your country background and then at some point it came back to you.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks briefly about coming back to her rural background after college and then shows the interviewer some photographs on her laptop. She talks about her grandmother canning.

Keywords: Affrilachian poets; Canning; Family; Grandparents; Growing up; Photos; Pictures; Writing communities

Subjects: African American--Appalachian Region; Canning and preserving.; Family farms; Family--history; Photographs.; Rural; Rural conditions; Writing.

01:53:06 - Teenage years in Indian Creek / grandparents

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Partial Transcript: So you lived in Indian Creek all the way until you went to college?

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson describes her teenage years growing up on her grandparents' farm in Indian Creek and shares stories about the relationship she had with them and the things they would do together. She talks about her grandparents' shopping and cooking habits.

Keywords: Food; Grandparents; Growing up; Holiday dinners; Homes; Indian Creek (Ky.)

Subjects: Casey County (Ky.); Childhood; Chores.; Cooking.; Family--history; Farm life--Kentucky--Casey County; Farm life.; Teenagers.

02:05:59 - How growing up in rural Indian Creek has influenced her entire life

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Partial Transcript: It's my entire life really in many ways.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about the commonality she finds with people in rural communities due to her childhood experiences.

Keywords: Country; Growing up; Indian Creek (Ky.); Race; Rural

Subjects: Childhood; Country life; Kentucky--Rural conditions.; Racism; Rural African Americans.

02:10:11 - Teaching rural students at Morehead State University

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Partial Transcript: What's it like teaching at Morehead and having kids who maybe are coming from a similar place with losing, some of the eastern Kentucky kids.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about trying to create relationships with her students at Morehead State University through recognizing their common experiences being from rural Kentucky.

Keywords: Morehead (Ky.); Race

Subjects: African Americans--Education; Country life; Education; Education, Higher; Higher education; Morehead State University; Racism; Rural conditions; Students.; Teaching.

GPS: Morehead State University
Map Coordinates: 38.2214698, -83.4710188
02:12:59 - Loss of homeland

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Partial Transcript: And then you know there's a no--a whole other conversation going on about--I think its one thing to, to lose your homeland because its sold away and, um, the place, you know, that's, that's--everywhere we live changes.

Segment Synopsis: Wilkinson talks about the pain and sadness associated with losing your homeland, but discusses that it is even harder for people whose ancestral land is actually physically gone or changed, so they cannot even return.

Keywords: Ancestral lands; Changes; Homelands; Homes; Lands; Losses; Mountains

Subjects: Appalachia; Family farms; Family--history; Kentucky--Rural conditions.; Land use, Rural--Kentucky; Place attachment