Novelist Tours Black Archives for New Book

Dolen Perkins-Valdez took a tour of the Black Archives Wednesday afternoon while researching for her upcoming novel.

“I was told about this really wonderful African-American history collection in this room,” said Perkins-Valdez, author of “Wench,” as she sat in the Civil War room. “I love to come in a room like this and listen to the tour because it helps me to sharpen my awareness of those questions I should be asking.”

Perkins-Valdez hopes her novels can provoke conversation. Her first novel, “Wench,” tackled the issue of complicated relationships between slave owners and their enslaved mistresses. Her second novel, which

does not have a title yet, is set in the Civil War era. 

“As a novelist, I think our goal is not to be historians. We’re not creating new, archival conclusions. We are posing questions,” said Perkins-Valdez. “When we are talking about this era, often those questions are the great moral questions of our country.”

While touring the Black Archives, Perkins-Valdez spoke with students who were also in the museum. She also signed books for one student. 

“I think she is an excellent author. I really enjoyed having the one-on-one time with her since she came to the Black Archives and seeing her thoughts on things that are in the Black Archives,” said Sharita Henderson, first-year physical therapy student from Nashville, Tenn., who has read “Wench.” “I think that it’s excellent she wrote a

book about something that people nowadays really aren’t writing about.”

Set in 1850s Ohio, Wench explores the complicated, emotional relationships between slave owners and their mistresses. The novel also includes a resort that existed between 1852 and 1856 that was popular among slave owners with slave mistresses.

It was the complicated, psychological relationship of the slaves and owners that intrigued Perkins-Valdez most and helped in developing the character of Lizzie, the main character in “Wench.” Perkins-Valdez was interested in why many mistresses returned to the South after being taken to a free state where could have escaped.

“Partly, I knew it was because they had children and those children would be left behind,” said Perkins-Valdez. “So I knew that would be a major theme in the book.”

Perkins-Valdez’s new book will be available in 2013, and Henderson looks forward for the release.

“I really want to see what she is going to do with it, especially with us being in this room and gaining knowledge I didn’t know before,” said Henderson.