Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Dolen Perkins-Valdez's fiction and essays have appeared in Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2009, The Kenyon Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, and Richard Wright Newsletter.
A novelist and short story writer, Dolen has also been a University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow. She is a former University of California postdoctoral fellow and graduate of Harvard. Dolen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.
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Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Amistad (January 5, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
In 1851, a lawyer named Elias P. Drake purchased a plot of
land near Xenia, Ohio with the intent to establish a summer
vacation resort where the country's elite could relax and enjoy
the mineral springs in the area. At the time, it was believed
that natural water could cure illnesses and bring about good
health. What made this resort unusual, however, was that it
became a popular vacation destination for southern slaveholders
and their enslaved mistresses. Ultimately, these flagrantly open
relationships offended the northern abolitionists who also
frequented the resort. After four years, the resort closed.
This part of the story has been confirmed by historians. I took this forgotten historical note and sketched in a fictional account of what it would have been like to be an enslaved woman traveling to this free state each summer. Why wouldn't the women try to escape? What kinds of emotional attachments did they have with these men? Initially, I believed that it was entirely possible that they actually loved the men. Ultimately, I discovered that it was much more complicated than that.
Situated in the free state of Ohio, Tawawa House offers respite from the summer heat. A beautiful, inviting house surrounded by a dozen private cottages, the resort is favored by wealthy Southern white men who vacation there, accompanied by their enslaved mistresses.
Regular visitors Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet have forged an enduring friendship. They look forward to their annual reunion and the opportunity it affords them to talk over the changes in their lives and their respective plantations. The subject of freedom is never spoken aloud until the red-maned, spirited Mawu arrives and voices her determination to escape. To run is to leave behind the friends and families trapped at home. For some, it also means tearing the strong emotional and psychological ties that bind them to their masters.
When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet soon learn tragic lessons, that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the cruelest circumstances as they bear witness to the end of an era.