Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Women Writers of Color: Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Full Name - Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Website/Blog - Facebook, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Genre: Fiction
Most recently published work - Wench
How frequently do you update your sites - Everyday
Are your sites designed for interaction - Yes

Can you tell us a little about Wench?
Wench is a historical novel centered around a resort in 1850s Ohio that became popular among slaveowners and their enslaved mistresses. I discovered Tawawa House while reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois in 2004. When I got to the section that discussed the period of DuBois' life when he was a professor at Wilberforce University, it mentioned that Wilberforce was originally a resort hotel that must have been the most unusual hotel in America because it was popular among slaveowners and their enslaved mistresses. I was stunned by this historical footnote. At first, I did not know what I would do with it. I did not know if it would be a scholarly article or a short story. Eventually, when the archive failed to answer my questions, I decided to enter the story through the imaginative world of the novel.

One of the things I loved about Wench was the lyrical and visual language.
When did you find the time to refine it, between the research on the Tawawa house and creating Lizzie, Sweet, Reenie, Mawu?
I worked on Wench while working a full-time job and raising a family. I worked whenever I could--early in the morning or late at night. I started writing before I finished the research. I believe the imaginative story should lead the research, not the other way around. I looked for facts as I needed them.

Lizzie is the main character but the other three women are just as developed. Why Lizzie? And were you ever tempted to make Mawu the main character?
Lizzie is the main character because I was primarily interested in exploring the complex psychological dynamic between a slave and her master. Why didn't these slaves try to escape once they reached Ohio? I knew that Ohio was a hotbed of abolitionist activity. My first question was: Was it possible for a slaveowner to have a psychological hold over a slave strong enough to prevent that slave from escaping? The obvious answer to that question is yes. My second question, however, was more challenging. Was it possible for a slave to feel that she was in love with her master? This is the question I try to answer through the character of Lizzie. Mawu's reaction to her master is more straightforward: she despises him.

When three of the women rallied around the fourth after a loss, I got very choked up (yes I cried). At that moment their connection was very real and their differences meaningless.

Wench was a beautiful debut. Though for any novel especially a debut, readers must first be tempted by the cover. You got two great covers. Who is the artist behind the beautiful paperback edition? Which was released on Jan. 25.

I am not sure the name of the paperback cover artist. I really do love both covers. I have been very fortunate to have two amazing covers. I credit my publisher--Amistad/HarperCollins--for being so sensitive to the needs of this story. I am still grateful to them for agreeing to title the book Wench. I am so fortunate to have a publisher who gets it!!

Unfortunately many times novels by Black authors are considered for Black readers only. Female authors suffer from that same closed minded thinking. Thankfully this did not happen to Wench, it was very well received by a wide audience.

Why do you think that's so?

When I'm writing, I try not to think about audience. Thinking about audience while composing can sink a book. I do believe that our American history is very interconnected. Many readers seem to connect with the book because they feel it illustrates something important about our shared history.

If there anything else you'd like to share with Color Online?
I hope that you'll buy the paperback now rather than later, even if you don't plan to read it just yet. Those early sales numbers really count! And thanks for interviewing me.

Dolen, thank you so much. The author was kind enough to take the time to participate in WWOC while on tour.

If you've already read Wench consider buying a paperback edition for a gift or to donate to your local library.


Tea said...

What an honor to see you here today. Yes, your novel had quite a bit of our American History in it. I very easily call the whole book Historical fiction. It's not often we hear about the plight of the women and children. This book, Wench, brought it all out so well. Yet, the women were strong too. I'm very proud and honored to see you here. Thank you for writing a wonderful book. It's a book you don't forget.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for interviewing Dolen, Doret. Thank you Dolen
1) for your insight on such a unique topic
2) for the emphasis of the importance of the early sales...

And may I just add, Black is beautiful!

MissA said...

Wonderful interview and now you've got me ready to break my book-buying ban for February because of your early sales comment!

I really like both covers too and I just know Wench is going to be hard to read about. I don't understand how someone who is enslaved can love the person that enslaves them and I don't want to know, wait yes I do. ;D Can't wait to finally read Wench :)

Najela said...

I loved Wench and I had the pleasure of seeing Dolen last year reading from it. I lent it to my friend, but had I known that there was a paperback version, I would have just bought it for her. I still may by it for her if she doesn't hurry up and finish it though, I really want it back.

This was a great interview and the book is fantastic.