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Dolen Perkins-Valdez's “Take My Hand” Released in Paperback

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's “Take My Hand”Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the federally funded Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart. Until one day she makes the terrible discovery that the girls have been surgically sterilized without their consent.

Professor Dolen Perkins Valdez’s award-winning latest historical novel, Take My Hand, is inspired by the true story of the sisters, who are now in their sixties. The book has just been released in paperback by Berkley Books. NPR says, “It’s a haunting tale of how the actions of government agencies aren’t innocent of racism, injustice, or abuse, emotional and physical, of Black people in America. Valdez offers beautifully written prose, gripping dialogue, and unforgettable characters.”

Take My Hand has been awarded the 2023 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Fiction, the 2023 Prize for Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association. It was named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 in Newsweek, San Francisco Chronicle, Essence, NBC News, and elsewhere, and it was an IndieNext and LibraryReads pick for April 2022. It was a finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award and named a Top 20 Book of the Year by the Editors at Amazon.

Perkins-Valdez, an associate professor in AU’s Department of Literature and the chair of the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Wench, for which she won the First Novelist Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and Balm, for which she received a DC Commission on the Arts grant.

Writing from History

Perkins-Valdez is one of our nation’s pre-eminent chroniclers of American historical life. Her first novel Wench was released by HarperCollins as one of eight "Olive Titles," limited edition modern classics that included books by Edward P. Jones, Louise Erdrich, and Zora Neale Hurston. In 2013, she wrote the introduction to a special edition of Solomon Northup's New York Times bestselling Twelve Years a Slave. She also wrote the introduction for the 75th anniversary edition of George Orwell's 1984.

When asked about the rewards of writing historical fiction, Perkins-Valdez told American Magazine, “A benefit to fiction is that you can explore parts of history you can’t find in the archive. Historians use their intuitions based on the research they’ve done. I go a step further and dramatize those moments to take the reader into the moment firsthand.”

The critics agree. New York Times number-one bestselling author Terry McMillan says Take My Hand “Makes the past feel immediate and relevant. Because it is.” The Associate Press wrote, “Throughout the novel, detailed descriptions command rapt attention. Between its sizable length and the immense amount of research and history poured into its more than 350 pages, Take My Hand is an excellent example of a Big Ambitious Novel by a 21st-century woman.” The Washington Post called Take My Hand "a jewel of a book."

For More Information 

For more information about Dolen Perkins-Valdez, visit her website. For more information about her teaching, visit American University’s Department of Literature website.