C.D Wright’s One With Others captures Sweet Willie Wine’s Walk Against Fear in 1969 through small town Arkansas. Wright delves into the depths of the civil rights battle, following a white woman named V that gives everything she has to fight for the rights of others. This book-length lyrical essay includes a smattering of quotes from V’s friends, news reports, hymns, witnesses, lists, interviews and bits of history as Wrights attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the movement for the reader.
The narrative voice is that of V’s friend, someone quite close to her that has witnessed V’s struggles as well as her death. The book begins with the narrator’s account of V’s deathbed. “It smells like home. She said, dying. And I, What’s the you smell, V. And V, dying.”[sic] The reader learns very little about the narrator as she takes a journalistic role in the book. She was there, at V’s deathbed but the accounts of the incident are not directly from the narrator; They are from witnesses and from V herself, as well as newspapers and any other form of information Wright could gather. The narrator returns to V’s home after her death, it is here that we directly hear the narrator’s voice:
I park in a spot of shade and walk around.
Downtown half shut down.
Cotton gin still going, not strong, but going…
The house where my friend once lived, indefinitely empty…
If I put my face to the glass,
I can make out the ghost of her ironing board,
bottle of bourbon on the end.
This quote is a rare instance of the narrator’s voice and it takes a poetic quality both in texture and structure. Even in this poetic verse the narrator is scarcely visible. When she is there she is unconcerned with herself, reporting what she sees much more than her own experience.
For the most part the narrator’s life takes a back seat to the event of Sweet Willie Wine’s march. Her narration is subtle, simply quoting from other sources. Oftentimes Wright will quote pages of text from an interview or list the prices of food and supplies at the time, leaving the narrator an unnecessary tool:
only sure thing were the prices [and the temperatures]:
2 pounds of Oleo costs 25¢.
And 5 cans of Cherokee freestone peaches are $1.
The Cosmo club president held a tea at her lovely lakeside home.
The subtle voice of the narrator is found in the presentation. “The only sure thing were the prices,” a quiet, yet powerful statement of the times, followed by a list that begins with foodstuffs and quickly turns to events that occurred.
Wright certainly does not confine herself in this book. She spreads far and wide, jumping between time, location, and speaker quickly, surrounding the reader with images. Her book is vivid and loud. Her use of multiple voices to tell a single story - voices from every possible situation - distinguishes her writing from standard autobiography. Her use of white space and poetry was interwoven very naturally. Writing like this opens up possibilities for writers and pushes their reader to self assemble the story through the soundscape Wright so delicately created.