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Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Author of Take My Hand

  • About Dolen Perkins-Valdez

    Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the New York Times bestselling author of Wench (2010) and Balm (2015). Her newest book, Take My Hand, is a searing and compassionate novel about a young Black nurse’s shocking discovery of the government’s restriction of reproductive freedom, veiled in the guise of healthcare. Based on the true story of Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf who, in 1973 at ages 12 and 14, were surgically sterilized without their consent in Alabama, Perkins-Valdez brings to light the terrifying history of medical mistreatment of Black people and the poor by medical professionals. Informed by her research, in her enlightening speeches, she fights to correct the harmful misguided medical practices and ethics, based in class and racial bias, that are still prevalent in today’s medical community.

    Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s previous work, Wench was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. In 2017, HarperCollins released it as one of eight “Olive Titles,” limited edition modern classics that included books by Edward P. Jones, Louise Erdrich, and Zora Neale Hurston. Perkins-Valdez received a DC Commission on the Arts Grant for her second novel Balm which was published by HarperCollins in 2015. She is a two-time nominee for a USA Artists Fellowship.

    In 2013, Dolen Perkins-Valdez wrote the introduction to a special edition of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, published by Simon & Schuster, which became a New York Times bestseller.  Perkins-Valdez is the current Chair of the Board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is Associate Professor in the Literature Department at American University in Washington, DC.

    Contact us for more information about booking Dolen Perkins-Valdez for your next event. 

  • Speaking Topics

    Take My Hand

    In 2017, Dolen Perkins-Valdez began researching the story of Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf, two sisters who were sterilized without their family's consent nearly fifty years ago. What she discovered was one of the gravest injustices in our country's history, an injustice that she was stunned to discover was still going on today. Rather than try to tell the story from the perspective of the sisters, or from the perspective of the remarkable young lawyer who took their case to federal court, Perkins-Valdez explored the complicity of the nurses who worked at the federally-funded family planning clinic where the sisters were patients. What responsibility do we have to take care of our most vulnerable society members? At what point do we cross the line from care to harm? This talk can be geared to healthcare providers seeking to provide consistently unbiased care, but it speaks to any of us who has ever done charitable work and desire to be self-vigilant about our good intentions.

    Reproductive Rights, Ethics, and Healthcare Disparities

    In 1994, a group of Black feminists met at a conference in Illinois and coined the phrase “reproductive justice.” How did they define it? How are contemporary conversations around reproductive justice and reproductive rights informed by history? In this talk, Perkins-Valdez speaks to the ethical considerations of addressing contemporary health disparities, with a special focus on the intersection of reproductive rights with other types of human rights.

    Fiction Craft Lectures

    Inspiration and Becoming a Writer
    What are some of the fundamental skills necessary to fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming a fiction writer? Where do you find story inspiration and how do you turn real life events into a fictional story? In this talk, Perkins-Valdez will outline the steps one should take to become a fiction writer.

    The Role of Fiction Writers in Contemporary Society
    What is the role of fiction in contemporary political life? A writer can employ fiction to become an actively engaged citizen, even if the fiction is not overtly political.

  • Video

  • Praise for Dolen Perkins-Valdez


    Take My Hand is an awesome read! To be a black nurse practitioner who works in women’s health, it was jarring to realize this incident happened roughly ten years prior to my own birth. It gives me more fuel and determination to do my part to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. I appreciate Dr. Perkins-Valdez for her hard work, research and viewpoint in this work. My practice will forever be changed.

    Christina Taylor, MSN, FNP-C

    Praise for Take My Hand

    A jewel of a book…Perkins-Valdez’s grasp of large historical themes is matched by her attention to her characters’ lives, their existence so meticulously rendered that you can smell the fetid air of the Williams’s country hovel and the scent of the girls freshly bathed and slathered with cocoa butter….Take My Hand reminds us that truly extraordinary fiction is rarely written merely to entertain…Perkins-Valdez has done a fine job of building a structure and scaffolding that will not only endure but also bear the weight of future writers yearning to bring the past to readers afresh.

    Washington Post

    [An] impressive historical epic. Valdez’s story and characters are deeply affecting and call attention to the importance of recognizing history’s dark moments.


    Engrossing from the start….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 Associated Press

    A searing and ultimately hopeful novel about (in)justice and the importance of learning from history.

    Ms. Magazine

    An unforgettable novel about horrendous wrongs and the choice to fight back against them.


    Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a brilliant writer in a class all by herself. I love her voice and how she makes the past feel immediate and relevant, because it is.

    Terry McMillan, #1 New York Times bestselling author

    Take My Hand is a gem: one of those rare and beautiful novels that walks the balance beam of heartbreak and hope.  Dolen Perkins-Valdez demonstrates once again the way she can breathe life into history through fiction that adds deep and profound meaning to the past — and makes its relevance to the present meaningful and clear.

    Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Flight Attendant and Hour of the Witch

    When you know Dolen Perkins-Valdez is writing a book, you know that it is going to be a spectacular thing. And that is the case with Take My Hand. Conveyed as softly as a familial conversation, this is a work that makes difficult things endurable. Perkins-Valdez relays untold pain honestly, astutely, but most of all, gently, like a sage would. That is another way of saying that she crafts this book with great truth and wisdom. As a result, Take My Hand is the kind of rare, elevating, illuminating, useful art that we would all do well to grasp for dear life.

    Robert Jones, Jr.New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets

    Take My Hand will break your heart and lift your soul. A young nurse with big dreams of helping her community comes to an Alabama clinic and is immediately embroiled in the lives of two young Black girls, caught first in the trap of rural poverty and then in the spotlight of a national court case as their mistreatment at the clinic’s hands comes out into the open. Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a consummate storyteller: profound, transcendent, heart-wrenching.

    Kate Quinn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code

    Moving, important, and timely, Take My Hand is both a poignant personal story and a riveting courtroom drama. By refusing to accept the status quo, big-hearted, idealistic Civil Townsend sets events in motion that eventually change hearts, minds, and lives, including her own. A perfect book-club pick.

    Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Exiles

    Perkins-Valdez’s latest is a piercing look into a shameful moment in America’s history, and could not be more timely. Her electrifying, masterful novel brims with fierce compassion and deserves attention and accolades galore. I will be recommending it to everyone I know.

    Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

    This powerful novel finds the humanity in one of the most inhumane chapters of American history. Take My Hand will enrage you. It will illuminate you. It just might redeem you. In the process, it will take your breath away. I don’t say this often, but it’s a must-read.

    Jamie FordNew York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

    Based on a heart-wrenching true tale of injustice, Take My Hand is a poignant novel that transports the reader to Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1970s and culminates in a dramatic court case against coerced sterilizations. As always, Perkins-Valdez writes with sensitivity, grace and a world-weary wisdom that breaks you before putting you together again. This is a powerful and unforgettable novel that will linger long after you’ve closed the cover.

    Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette

    Dolen Perkins Valdez takes a moment in our history that has been hidden inside the folds of time and she brings those heinous acts back into the light. This is a riveting story of one woman’s fight against a system that believes it has the right to determine who should give birth in this country and who should not. Civil Townsend’s plight as she seeks justice is heartbreaking, but also inspiring, reminding us that one woman can stand and make a difference. Beautifully written in typical Dolen Perkins Valdez’s style, I didn’t put this book down until I closed the last page and even then, I wanted more.

    Victoria Christopher Murray, New York Times bestselling author of The Personal Librarian

    Delicate and poetic, Dolen manages to fuse beauty and tragedy in her work, which makes her a masterful storyteller and gifted writer. In this story, Dolen speaks eloquently for those who, in being denied the right of having a choice and agency over their bodies, have lost their voice. This haunting tale, captured through the lens of an unforgettable narrator and a cast of memorable characters, will stay with you for a very, very long time.

    Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of bestselling novels Patsy and Here Comes the Sun

    Perhaps the most notable of this book’s gifts are its deft packaging of history and its quiet nod—in the juxtaposition of timelines—to the reproductive oppression haunting Black women to this day. Like the most effective education, though, it feels that the information is streaming through the heart, awakening it and inspiring it to action.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    Inspired by true events this story highlights the horrific discrepancies in our healthcare system and illustrates their heartbreaking consequences.


    A heart-wrenching page-turner as relevant as ever, Perkins-Valdez presents a smart way in for Americans ready to illuminate history’s darkest corners so that we may forward meaningful change in the present.

    The AV Club

    …shot through with spirit and hope, it’s one hell of a book.

    Stylist (UK)

    Perkins-Valdez’s narrative, though tragic, brims with hope as one woman refuses to be silenced.

    Elle (UK)

    An utterly gripping tale from start to finish, Take My Hand is storytelling at its finest.

    Glamour (UK)

    Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Take My Hand reaches for hard truths.

    Publishers Weekly (feature)

    There’s nothing better than settling down to read a novel and immediately sensing that you’re in the hands of a gifted storyteller.

    Bookpage (starred review)

    This powerful, timely novel is an excellent choice for bookclubs, as well as for readers of contemporary fiction featuring strong female characters.


    Vividly highlights the deep and lasting impact of injustice.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Dolen Perkins-Valdez pens a powerfully emotional tale that calls upon the many ways Black women create sisterhoods. The strength and courage the characters exhibit will stay with readers for a long time.

    Sisters from AARP

    Praise for Balm

    Moving…In gorgeous, compassionate prose, Perkins-Valdez continues our national conversation about people working together to heal our communities.

    Washington Post

    A powerful novel inspired by our nation’s past…a tale of individual loves, longings, and losses bound together by the healing balm of hope. Perkins-Valdez truly captures the American spirit.

    New York Journal of Books

    Elegantly crafted …captures the fierce energy, diversity, and suffering of Civil War-era Chicago…Perkins-Valdez moves gracefully among her three protagonists’ viewpoints as they struggle to claim their authentic gifts and free themselves of the pain of their pasts. Her spare, lyrical voice is unsentimental yet compassionate.

    Publishers Weekly

    A deeply moving, beautifully written novel told from the heart.

    USA Today
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