Open main menu

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is an American writer, best known for her debut novel Wench: A Novel (2010), which became a bestseller.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Dolen Perkins-Valdez 1272036.jpg
OccupationWriter and professor
NationalityUnited States
Alma materBA, Harvard College
PhD, George Washington University
Notable worksWench (2010) Balm (2015)

Based in Washington, DC, she is a member of the PEN/Faulkner Board of Directors.[1] She is an associate professor in creative writing at American University.[2]

Early life and educationEdit

Born Dolen Marie Perkins to Barbara J. Perkins and James A. Perkins of Memphis, Tennessee, she grew up there. She attended Harvard College as an undergraduate, earning a BA degree. She completed a master's in creative writing from the University of Memphis, and a PhD in English at George Washington University in Washington, DC, where she settled as an adult.[3]


Perkins-Valdez has published short fiction and essays in such magazines as The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, StorySouth, African American Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, Richard Wright Newsletter, and SLI: Studies in Literary Imagination.[4]

She has also taught at Mary Washington College, and the University of Puget Sound.[4] She is now an associate professor at American University in Washington, DC.[2]

Perkins-Valdez has said she was inspired to write her debut novel, Wench: A Novel (2010), after reading a biography of W.E.B. Dubois and coming across a brief reference to the founding of Wilberforce University. It was noted as first being based at the buildings and grounds of a former, privately owned resort called Tawawa House, named for the "yellow springs" in the area. The iron-rich waters were thought to have medicinal value. Among the regular summer visitors to the Ohio resort in the antebellum period were Southern white planters and their enslaved mistresses of color.[5]

Wench features Lizzie, a young enslaved woman, and her complicated relationship with her master. It also explores the lives of three other mistresses of color, whom Lizzie comes to know at the resort. They are influenced by spending time in a free state, and seeing free people of color there. It was published by Harper Collins in 2010 and in paperback the following year.

The book received positive reviews and notice as a debut novel.[6] The paperback edition became a bestseller. The novel was selected by NPR in 2010 as one of five books published that year that was recommended to book clubs, for "something to talk about".[7]

Other worksEdit

In 2013, Perkins-Valdez was invited to write an introductory essay to the 37th edition of Solomon Northup's autobiography Twelve Years a Slave.[8]

Her second novel, Balm: A Novel, was published in May 2015.[9] The novel is set in Chicago during the Reconstruction Era. It explores a Tennessee black healer named Madge, who was born free; a white widowed spiritualist named Sadie; and a freedman called Hemp from Kentucky, who gained freedom by fighting with the Union Army. Each migrated to Chicago after the war, along with thousands of others working to rebuild their lives and to explore new kinds of freedom.[10]

Perkins-Valdez said that she wanted to "move the story out of the battlegrounds of the war into a place like Chicago [...] taking it out of those traditional spaces such as the South or even thinking of Virginia or Pennsylvania... and putting it somewhere that was absolutely affected by the war but was still, in some ways, peripheral."[10]


  • 2002-2003, she was a president's postdoctoral fellow at the Center for African American Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.[3]
  • 2009, finalist for the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Award. [4]
  • 2011, finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction, for her novel Wench[2]
  • Perkins-Valdez received the First Novelist Award in 2011 for Wench by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.[11][12]
  • She received a DC Commission on the Arts Grant to aid in completion of her second novel, Balm.


  • Wench: A Novel (2010) ISBN 9780061706561
  • Balm: A Novel (2015) ISBN 9780062318671


  1. ^ "Dolen Perkins-Valdez | Writers in Schools | PEN/Faulkner Foundation". Retrieved 2016-01-30.
  2. ^ a b c "Profile Dolen Perkins-Valdez". Retrieved 2016-01-30.
  3. ^ a b "WEDDINGS/CELEBRATIONS; Dolen Perkins, David Valdez". The New York Times. 3 August 2003. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "'Wench- A Novel': An Excerpt". The Nervous Breakdown. 30 January 2010. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  5. ^ O'Neal Parker, Lonnae. "A tender spot in master-slave relations". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  6. ^ Nelson, Samantha (January 2011). "Review: Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Wench". AV Club. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  7. ^ Neary, Lynn (6 December 2010). "Best Books of 2010: Book Club Picks: Give 'Em Something To Talk About". NPR. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  8. ^ Northup, Solomon & Perkins-Valdez, Dolen (Introduction) (September 17, 2013). Twelve Years a Slave (37th ed.). Atria. ASIN B00DJWV0VY.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Perkins-Valdez, Dolen (May 26, 2015). Balm: A Novel (1st ed.). Amistad. ISBN 978-0062318657.
  10. ^ a b NPR Staff (6 June 2015). "Author Interviews: 'Balm' Looks At Civil War After The Battles, Outside The South". NPR. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Awards (1994–Present)". Infoplease. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  12. ^ Perkins-Valdez, Dolen (2010). Wench. Amistad. ASIN B004NE8RZ4.

External linksEdit