Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Wench. In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. She was awarded the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and she received a DC Commission on the Arts Grant for her forthcoming second novel. A graduate of Harvard University and a forme University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, she teaches writing in the Stonecoast MFA program. She is a member of the PEN/Faulkner Board of Directors, and she lives in Washington, DC with her family.

Books and Lesson Plans

  • Wench

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    Situated in Ohio, a free territory before the Civil War, Tawawa House is an idyllic retreat for Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their enslaved black mistresses. Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at the resort, building strong friendships over the years. But when Mawu, as fearless as she is assured, comes along and starts talking of running away, things change. To run is to leave everything behind, and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances; all while they bear witness to the end of an era.

    Appropriate for grades 9 and up.

    Lessons on characterization, culture and history, and close text analysis

  • Twelve Years a Slave (by Solomon Northup)

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    Solomon Northup was born a free man in New York State. At the age of 33 he was kidnapped in Washington D.C. and placed in an underground slave pen. Northup was transported by ship to New Orleans where he was sold into slavery. He spent the next 12 years working as a carpenter, driver, and cotton picker. This narrative reveals how Northup survived the harsh conditions of slavery, including smallpox, lashings, and an attempted hanging. Solomon Northup was among a select few who were freed from slavery. His account describes the daily life of slaves in Louisiana, their diet and living conditions, the relationship between master and slave, and how slave catchers used to recapture runaways. Northup's first person account published in 1853, was a dramatic story in the national debate over slavery that took place in the nine years leading up to the start of the American Civil War.

    Appropriate for grades 9 and up.

    Course lesson plans for Twelve Years a Slave are currently in development.

  • Balm

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    The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life. Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift. Hemp arrives in this northern city Searching for his missing family. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.

    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.

    Appropriate for grades 9 and up.

    Lesson plans for Balm are currently in development.

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