The history of rock music is rife with rock gods, but fewer rock goddesses get their laurels—and far fewer Black rock goddesses. And yet, rock has always taken major cues from Black women, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Betty Davis to Brittany Howard. It’s partly from this legacy that Dawnie Walton’s debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, draws its inspiration—and like the women it subtly pays tribute to, it has been well deserving of applause.
Walton and I play a game of guess-the-muse in this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, where we also discuss how she drew on her former career as a journalist and editor at outlets like Essence and Entertainment Weekly to conceive her highly conceptual—yet highly effective approach to writing fiction.
“I’ve always been a pop culture junkie,” she explains. “Do you remember what an experience it was on album release day and you would go and pick up the record and you would take it home, and put the CD in, and hold the liner notes, and just read all the lyrics with the music and all of it was just burned down to your soul? I miss that. You know, I miss that feeling. And, you know, part of the reason why I wanted to write about music was to stick myself back into feeling like that and to remember what that was like.
“At Entertainment Weekly, we used to use the oral history form all the time to talk about iconic films and TV shows and how they came to be. And I just love the way that voices would play with each other and the ways that memories would compare and contrast...kind of trying to find the truth between everybody’s different versions of it,” Walton continued. “So I liked that idea. And then also, the character of Opal was just a character that I really badly wanted to exist in the world...you know, someone who was like a rock star and messy and cool and funny and stylish, but also very proudly Black and able to hold all those things together at once. So I always feel like I had a character like Opal kind of simmering inside, you know, and in 2013, she just started talking to me.”
You can hear more about the lyrical work of Dawnie Walton in Episode 39 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Dawnie Walton Takes us On an Imagined Trip Through Rock History In ‘The Final Revival of Opal and Nev’, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.