Leesa Cross-Smith’s Debut Novel ‘Whiskey And Ribbons’ A Fugue Of Narrators

Leesa Cross-Smith spoke to Lois Reitzes about her debut novel "Whiskey and Ribbons" on "City Lights."
Leesa Cross-Smith spoke to Lois Reitzes about her debut novel "Whiskey and Ribbons" on "City Lights."

“Whiskey And Ribbons,” the debut novel from Leesa Cross-Smith, uses three separate narrators to tell their collective story.

The narrators include Eamon, a police officer, now deceased; Dalton, Eamon’s brother; and Evangiline, who was married to Eamon and recently gave birth to their child. Cross-Smith explains to City Lights host Lois Reitzes that when she set out to write the book, she wasn’t quite sure how to structure the book.

“I ended up structuring it as a fugue,” she says. “Which I came to find out, was to a composer, to write it as a piece of music, which means to take three voices and one of the voices drops out.”

Music did not simply inform Cross-Smith’s writing process, but rather plays a specific role in the lives of each narrator.

“Evangeline is a ballerina and so music would always, always be important to her,” the author says. “And then we have Dalton who’s a classically trained pianist, his mother was a concert pianist, and it just comes easy to him. He’s just good at it, it something he does, he doesn’t even do it professionally, he’s just good at it.”

On the other hand, Eamon just loves to listen to music.

“I really was specific about having him love, like, 80s, 90s yacht rock…having him love, like, Phil Collins and Sade and Elton John and Billy Joel,” Cross-Smith says.

And while the narrators are black and bi-racial, Cross-Smith didn’t set out to make race at the forefront of her novel.

“When I was growing up, any time I wanted to read a book that had a little black girl on the cover or even mentioned a little black girl, the book was only about civil rights, was only ‘she was living in Birmingham,’ was only about Martin Luther King, it was only about slavery ‘she was a little slave,” she says.

Cross-Smith acknowledges that books focused on race are important, but that simply wasn’t what she set out to write in “Whiskey and Ribbons.”

“I’ve been black my whole life, but also I just want to read books too. And there’s a lot of black kids that just want to read books…just books and it doesn’t have to be about race.”

Leesa Cross-Smith’s debut novel “Whiskey and Ribbons” is available now.

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