Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of Balm and the New York Times best-seller Wench, a startling piece of original fiction that tells the story of four enslaved black women in the years preceding the Civil War. Lauded by People as "a devastatingly beautiful account of a cruel past," Wench has drawn comparisons to Kathryn Stockett's The Help and Edward P. Jones's The Known World. A sought-after keynote speaker, Perkins-Valdez has addressed audiences at the Women's National Book Association, American Library Association, National Black Writers Conference, Santa Monica City Reads, and the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as the New School, Rhodes College, and the University of California at Riverside.
Wench (Amistad) illustrates the stories of four women, brought together every summer at Tawawa House, a resort that caters exclusively to Southern white men and their black, enslaved mistresses. The lives of Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet, regulars at Tawawa House, are radically changed by the arrival of Mawu, a truth-talking, strong-minded woman unafraid to speak of freedom and escape. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa house learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable, and that love exists even in the most inhuman of circumstances.
Her most recent novel, Balm (Amistad) returns to the Civil War era to explore the next chapter of history: the trauma of the War and the end of slavery. In this powerful story of love and healing, the reader follows Madge, Sadie, and Hemp in their struggle to overcome the pain of the past and define their own future. In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in a desperate, unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest. Beautiful in its historical atmosphere and emotional depth, Balm is a stirring novel of love, loss, hope, and reconciliation set during one of the most critical periods in American history.
Perkins-Valdez's fiction and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, African American Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, Richard Wright Newsletter, and SLI: Studies in Literary Imagination. She is a 2011 NAACP Image Award Nominee, a 2009 finalist for the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Award, a graduate of Harvard, and a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow.
She lives in Washington, D.C.
Praise for Wench:
"[E]lectrifying. . . . [T]his remarkable novel skillfully dramatizes a dark chapter in American history. Writing with lyrical grace and a gift for plot development, Perkins-Valdez has produced an inspiring portrait of four brave women and the risks they take to change their lives."
"[A] fascinating and tragic story. . . . [A] compulsive read."
-- NPR.org, Book Club Pick
"[A] memorable and engaging debut."
-- Library Journal, Best Books of 2010
"Readers entranced by The Help will be equally riveted by Wench. A deeply moving, beautifully written novel told from the heart."
-- USA Today
"A heartbreaker, full of understated tragedy and lyrical prose. . . . Perkins-Valdez has woven a devastatingly beautiful account of a cruel past."
"Perkins-Valdez manages to shed a poetic light on one of the ugliest chapters in American history."
"Perkins-Valdez memorably portrays how the entwined destinies of chattel and master, increasingly related by blood, passion and hatred, prefigure the looming national conflict. This is an almost forgotten, but important, chapter in American history--recorded as fiction but nonetheless full of hard facts."
-- Town & Country
"Absolutely phenomenal. . . . Wench is an excellent novel that will appeal to many readers. Debut author Dolen Perkins-Valdez has crafted a historical narrative that shouldn't be missed."
-- Sacramento Book Review
"Impressive. . . . There are countless stories to be told and to be read regarding the lingering emotional impact of slavery; and here, Perkins-Valdez has imagined a memorable one, her characters are framed within a well-crafted and expressive narrative."
-- The Network Journal
"In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history. . . . Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez's ability to bring the unfortunate past to life."
-- Publishers Weekly
"[A] memorable first novel . . . Readers of historical fiction centering on Southern women's stories like Lalita Tademy's Cane River or Lee Smith's On Agate Hill will be moved by the skillful portrayal of Lizzie's precarious situation and the tragic stories of her fellow slaves."
-- Library Journal (starred review)
"Perkins-Valdez's power to imagine herself into the hearts and minds of slave mistresses and their masters is astonishing. A shattering story told with dignity, compassion, and some wicked humor. A brave, honest, beautifully written book that will shock and move readers to much new awareness."
-- Sigrid Nunez, author of The Last of Her Kind and A Feather on the Breath of God
"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."
"Positively riveting. There will be obvious comparisons to classics like Beloved and Dessa Rose, obvious but deserved. Wench is risky, rich, confounding, maddening, satisfying, illuminating, and downright fascinating. Dolen Perkins-Valdez has created something fresh out of history known but hidden--something old, something new, something borrowed, and something definitely blue. But more, she has the audacity to challenge her readers to reimagine the Peculiar Institution of slavery in ways we Americans are only getting ready to face."
-- Randall Kenan, the author of Let The Dead Bury Their Dead
"What struck me most forcibly about Wench was the simple and extraordinary delving into the human heart, the choices destiny doled, and how those choices were answered. Perkins-Valdez crawls under your skin and probes most gracefully in clear, concise lyric prose, ultimately asking the question that only extraordinary fiction can ask--what would you have done? A superb and outstanding achievement."
-- Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall and A Peculiar Grace
"This elegantly-structured novel sheds much-needed light on the racial intricacies of America's past."
-- Margaret Cezair-Thompson, author of The Pirate's Daughter (a #1 Indie Next Pick)
"Through unforgettable characters and luscious prose, Wench stares down the difficult truths while never losing its beautiful beating heart. With all the weight of a historical excavation and the urgency of a page-turner, Perkins-Valdez establishes herself as a powerful new voice in fiction. "
-- Tayari Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling
"Dolen Perkins-Valdez's debut novel, Wench, is outstanding: well crafted, imaginative, spellbinding, and above all satisfying. . . . Wench echoes, revises, and/or enlarges upon resistance and neoresistance narratives by Mary Seacole, Linda Brent, Shirley Anne Williams, Beryl Gilroy, Toni Morrison, Barbara Chase-Riboud, and Alice Walker, among others."
-- World Literature Today
Praise for Balm:
“Perkins-Valdez deftly weaves her characters’ longings with the gritty realities of American life after war’s devastations…No sophomore slump is in evidence here. Readers who were captivated by Perkins-Valdez’s first novel, Wench, will be intrigued by the post-Civil War lives of three Southern transplants to Chicago.”
-- Library Journal
“A deeply moving, beautifully written novel told from the heart.”
“Elegantly crafted …captures the fierce energy, diversity, and suffering of Civil War-era Chicago…Perkins-Valdez moves gracefully among her three protagonists’ viewpoints as they struggle to claim their authentic gifts and free themselves of the pain of their pasts. Her spare, lyrical voice is unsentimental yet compassionate.”
-- Publishers Weekly
"Moving...In gorgeous, compassionate prose, Perkins-Valdez continues our national conversation about people working together to heal our communities."
"A powerful novel inspired by our nation's past...a tale of individual loves, longings, and losses bound together by the healing balm of hope. Perkins-Valdez truly captures the American spirit."
--New York Journal of Books