Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guest Blogger, Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Join me in welcoming Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of "Wench," as the guest blogger today on Thoughts in Progress.

Dolen is joining us today to give some background information on how she came to write "Wench." 

Dolen, could you tell us how your novel came about? Explain your historical footnote? 

My debut novel "Wench" began when I stumbled upon a fascinating footnote of history. While reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois, I learned that during the 1850s, there was a summer resort near Xenia, Ohio, notorious for its popularity among slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I was stunned to learn this little-known historical fact. 

I decided to do a bit of historical excavation and learn more. At the time, it was very popular among the country's elite to visit natural springs. This particular resort opened in 1852, and became popular among southern slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I knew that Ohio was a free state and many of the northerners were abolitionists. Yet I was fascinated to learn that because they did not enjoy vacationing with the southerners and their slave entourages, they stopped coming and business declined. The place closed in 1855.
Most slaves did not leave written historical records. Yet I found myself entering an imaginative territory that would prove to be much more fertile than documents.

I began by asking myself the following questions: If the women entered free territory, why wouldn't they attempt to escape? Is it possible that they actually loved the men? As I made my way through draft after draft, I discovered that these were not questions easily answered. 

Even the answers I thought I would find turned out to be much more complicated than I'd imagined. The attachments these women had to their masters had many layers.  A 

As I approached the end of the novel, I myself did not know how my main character Lizzie would end it all. The journey of writing the book was probably as emotional for me as it has been for the readers who have e-mailed me about their captivating reading experiences of it. 

One question many people have about "Wench" is whether or not my character Lizzie was in love with her master Drayle. 

I don't know the answer to this question. I believe that love in the context of slavery is very, very difficult to draw a box around. Not only is it complicated in matters between slaves and their masters, but also between slaves and other slaves.  

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote, "O love is the crooked thing. There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it." If this is true in contexts outside of enslavement, surely it is even more so in the context of the "peculiar institution."

Dolen, thanks so much for sharing this background with us. Historical facts can be so intriguing.

Now for a little background on Dolen. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, African American Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, Richard Wright Newsletter, and SLI: Studies in Literary Imagination. She is a 2009 finalist for the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Award. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow.

Dolen splits her time between Seattle and Washington, DC. She is a faculty member of the University of Puget Sound where she teaches Creative Writing.  "Wench" is her first book of fiction. You can visit Dolen’s website at www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com, her blog at www.dolen.blogspot.com or connect with her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dolen.


  1. Thanks for some really interesting historical notes! I had no idea this practice had existed. "Wench" sounds like a very interesting book...thanks for the introduction to it.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  2. Elizabeth, I had never heard of a place like this either. Makes me wonder what other bits of history we are missing from that era. Wench is a very interesting book. I'll have a review of it here tomorrow.

  3. Masoan - Thanks so much for hosing Dolen today - so interesting!! Dolen, your novel sounds absolutely fascinating. It's a little-known part of histry, and that gets my attention every time. I will have to get a copy of your book!

  4. I didn't know this place existed, either. This sounds like a very interesting book. I imagine the research was very interesting too.

    Straight From Hel

  5. Very interesting! Thanks for this, Dolen, and best wishes with the book.

    Marvin D Wilson

  6. Thanks everyone for your kind words!! I really hope you enjoy the book. :-)

  7. What a fascinating tidbit of history. Hard to even imagine the mindset of slave owners. I imagine the poor women would be afraid to even try to fiugre their own emotions. Sounds like a great book!

  8. Margot, I think you will enjoy the book. The history that is entwined with this story is very interesting.

    Helen, it is a very interesting read.

    Marvin, thanks for stopping by.

    Dolen, thank you for sharing how you came about writing this story. Knowing the background adds that much more to it. Thanks for guest blogging here today.

    Jemi, I agree that they would probably be afraid to even show any emotions. Unimaginable.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.