Project on the Future of Black Writing: Crystal Bradshaw

Crystal Bradshaw, aspiring author & HBW staffer

[by Meredith Wiggins]

Editor’s Note: One of HBW’s goals is to promote research and creative work by new generations of scholars and writers. To that end, the HBW Blog will begin featuring short profiles of young creative writers and scholars for a feature we’ve named the Project on the Future of Black Writing.  First up: KU sophomore Crystal Bradshaw, a creative writer and aspiring publisher who also heads up HBW Communications.

Crystal Bradshaw knew from the time she was in sixth grade that she wanted to be a writer.

Her sixth-grade teacher would read books aloud to Crystal’s class, and Crystal never forgot the power of that.

“It just really amazed me because the way she’d read the stories just made me think, what if one day I wrote a book, and their teacher read the story to their students?” Crystal said.

A few years later, when she went looking for a story to tell, Crystal found one close to home: a few generations back on her family tree.

Crystal’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Eliza is the protagonist of her in-progress historical fiction novel, based on Eliza’s life during slavery in Kentucky and ending with her post-slavery move to Jetmore, Kansas, where Crystal’s family still lives. The novel is currently titled Eliza: A Generational Journey.

She learned about Eliza’s story as a high school student interested in her family history. Her research led her to an article archived by Emporia State University about Eliza’s life, which spurred the creation of Crystal’s novel; soon, she hopes, she’ll be able to go to Kentucky and conduct more primary research there.

Crystal is especially inspired by Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, which blends factual history and imaginative recreation to tell the story of four generations of Tademy’s enslaved female ancestors. She admires the novel’s construction, especially, which incorporates documents and photographs from the author’s two years of research directly into the narrative.

“In genealogy, you can kind of get lost for a while, but that way she keeps the reader on track,” Crystal said.

But as much as she loves Tademy’s novel, she wants to take a slightly different approach in her own writing.

“With my novel, I made sure that I wanted to be on a way more personal level, so it felt like you were either that person or you’re in that situation, so that’s something that Cane River has helped me decide,” she said. 

That personal approach is clear in her in-progress work, which uses first-person narration and places readers directly in Eliza’s head. (Crystal read an excerpt from her novel and discussed it with Tim Lantz and Cam Lay on KJHK’s Sunflower Reading Series; you can download the audio file of that interview here.)

Crystal said that she plans to write books about each generation of her family. Next up will be a book about her great-grandfather, Ralph Bradshaw, who died in 1983.

It’s that ability to span generations through story-telling that keeps Crystal writing.

“[It’s] just the importance of having your words reach out to other people,” she added.