Friday, February 11, 2011

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's WENCH: A Hidden History of Slavery

WENCH by Dolen Perkins-ValdezThe true novelist discovers an important story that hasn't been told, and the historian collects the pieces of our past that should never fade from our historical memory. In her debut novel Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez has done both.

Like Edward P. Jones's The Known World, Wench takes students back to America in the years before the Civil War and explores the moral complexities of slavery. Based on a little-known fact, Wench follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses.
Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. Most importantly, it provides privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's an open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at
Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don't bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory—but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.

Named a Best Book of 2010 by Library Journal, Wench has received much praise:

“Drawing on research about the resort that eventually became the first black college, Wilberforce University, the novel explores the complexities of relationships in slavery and the abiding comfort of women’s friendships.”—Booklist

“A finely wrought story that explores the emotional lives of four slave women caught in the web of the Peculiar Institution.”—Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River

And, here is what a fellow educator wrote to Ms. Perkins-Valdez's editor:

Hi Dawn,

I just finished reading Wench. Thank you very much for publishing this book.
It was such a powerful novel, not least of which was the lack of either
preaching or political stance. The novel simply unfolded.

Take care.
David Unger
Div. of Hum.
City College of New York
And, this from Charles Larson, Professor of Literature at American University: “Perkins-Valdez's first novel, Wench, published a year ago and now available in paperback, fits nicely with the moral and humanistic questions a number of black writers have made central to their work. In Beloved, Toni Morrison centered her masterpiece on a slave mother's murder of her child in order to make certain that that child would never become a slave. In The Known World, Edward P. Jones asked how it was possible that freed African-Americans could become slave-owners. Perkins-Valdez asks a similarly complicated question: will slave women who are mistresses of their white owners abandon the children of those liaisons and escape into freedom, given the opportunity?”
Please let us know if you'd like to consider Wench (9780061706561, paperback, $14.99) for one of your classes by filling out our desk copy form.

And, here's Ms. Perkins-Valdez talking about and reading from Wench.

1 comment:

  1. A quick read if you are looking for a well written piece of historical fiction. The author's detail allows one to clearly imagine the setting...everything from the sights to the smells. This book is well worth the time.