The author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev tells EW the pop culture of her life.

April 09, 2021 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Dawnie Walton, Opal and Nev
Credit: Rayon Richards; Simon + Schuster

Dawnie Walton's debut novel is heavily inspired by pop culture — to say the least. The story uses a fictional oral history format to recall the quick rise (and downfall) of a popular 70s rock group. The book is full of references to the music industry (of course), and Walton herself is a former editor of Entertainment Weekly. Here, she offers up her highly curated pop culture favorites.

The movie I watch over and over

Say Anything… even though in my 40s I'm skeptical that Lloyd and Diane could (or even should) stay together. I guess I watch it to smile back at the swoony, hopeful teenage girl I used to be. Plus, as a writer, I'm in love with the everything going on in the graduation-party scene, from "Joe Lies" to the air-quotes girl to poor Lloyd getting stuck being key master.

The last book that made me cry

I audibly wept through Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, a memoir about her family's lives between Haiti and America. My tears had levels — sadness over the distance and tragedies the Danticats face, general frustration over the unfairness of life, and rage over the casual cruelty of American gatekeepers and bureaucrats toward those desperate for asylum.

The first concert I attended

The Jacksons' Victory Tour, 1984 (age 8). My parents and I were visiting relatives in Atlanta, and they surprised us with tickets. I could barely hear the music over the screaming teenage fans, but I did get a commemorative photo album featuring soft-focus portraits of Michael and his brothers. I pawed through that thing till the pages fell out.

The last book that made me laugh out loud

The story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw — also from my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. There are moments that are intentionally funny, like the sibling squabbling in "Dear Sister," but I also said "Ha!" at a few masterful references and observations Philyaw drops, because they rang so true to the experiences I know as a Southern-born Black woman.

The first record I bought with my own money

For some reason that I can't remember, my folks took me to the Coconuts across the St. John's River and gave me some cash to spend on whatever I wanted. The haul: Michael Jackson's Off the Wall (because I already had Thriller), Wham!'s Make It Big, and Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual. God, how I loved pop radio.

The writer who made me want to be a writer

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, the YA novel by Judy Blume, was probably the first book that made me think about the craft of writing and how stories are built. It was a book that felt funny and tender and important all at once, and I took special note of how Blume wove in 1940s post-war history with her famously delightful exploration of kids' social lives.

The last TV show I binged

Fargo — the first three seasons. I don't know what took me so long to start it, but once I did, I was shocked by how much I loved the storytelling, especially the way season 1 remixes aspects of the movie. I still have season 4 to go, but I'm stalling. I'm not ready to run out of episodes.

The fictional world I would most like to live in

Um, beautiful skinfolk with endless resources, progressive gender dynamics, and no history of colonization? It's Wakanda for me!

My favorite fictional band

Special shoutout to Sex Bob-omb from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (especially Kim Pine on the drums!), but I gotta go with the titular band from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That soundtrack never screamed "musical!" to me; it's a bona fide, kickass rock & roll record. "Midnight Radio" is an anthem I often hear when I imagine my character Opal Jewel strolling on stage, and Hedwig surely would have been in that audience.

The one thing I wish everyone would watch

I May Destroy You reconfigured my brain cells. The way it will challenge you to think deeper about sexual consent, 21st-century connection, the power of owning your narrative, and what it means to heal… Michaela Coel is brave and brilliant.

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