How “Opal & Nev” were brought to life

How "Opal & Nev" came to life

Author Dawnie Walton offers a look into her writing career that has led to a highly touted debut novel.
Published: April 1, 2022
Author Dawnie Walton during her visit to the Newhouse School on March 31, 2022.
Author Dawnie Walton visited the Newhouse School on Thursday.

Dawnie Walton had a strong sense of her future from an early age.

In a project her mother had saved from the ninth grade, Walton predicted that she would write three novels and work as a journalist for a magazine. After nearly two decades as editor for several national publications, Walton published her debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, this past year and can confidently say her dreams have come true.

Walton spent Thursday talking with Newhouse School classes about The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, which follows a fictional rock ‘n’ roll duo through the trials and tribulations that came along with rapid stardom in the 1970s. The story, a passion project that took more than eight years to complete, was influenced by both Walton’s personal and professional experiences.

The ’70s are a time that Walton holds dearly; her parents were young and music filled her childhood home. Her work as an editor at magazines like Essence, Entertainment Weekly and LIFE, enabled her to explore identity, place and pop culture, which are all prevalent themes in the novel.

The first spark of inspiration for the story came to Walton in 2013 when she watched the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. The film follows background singers, mostly Black women who contributed to famous pop and rock songs. But their names and faces never appeared in music history. She recalls one moment specifically, seeing two women standing behind David Byrne of Talking Heads, who was center stage. These two women were joyful, with their microbraids and red lips commanding attention. Walton remembers just wanting to pull them to center stage and take in their energy, talent and beauty. This was the moment that inspired the first words of the story.

“This was the first time with this novel that I felt like it was really clicking,” Walton said. “I was getting something emotionally right, I was getting the characters right, I was getting the voices right. It’s hard to describe, but you know when you’re onto something that feels big and feels life-changing.”

And life-changing it was. Despite Walton taking her leap of faith and moving away from her career in journalism, the publication of her novel has afforded her opportunities in her previous career that she had never had before. In dutifully climbing the rungs of the media industry, she felt herself getting further and further away from her true passion: writing. But after The Final Revival of Opal & Nev came out, she was offered the chance to write cover stories. Now, though she wants to continue exploring her new identity as an author, the journalist side of her is still there.

“I always feel like those two pieces of me are still coexisting as the journalist and kind of like the dreamer, like the fiction writer, the practical, the logical and fantastical, both of those things at once,” Walton said.

This dream is something that has taken Walton farther than ever imagined and is inspiring to anyone looking to take that leap in their careers and their lives. She knew that when she no longer had a dream that scared her, something needed to change. She knew that she needed to trust her gut and trust herself, advice she would give to her younger self.