PIQUA — Edison State Community College finished their fifth annual Peace Week on Monday with a visit from author and documentary filmmaker Margaret Wrinkle, who read from her novel, “Wash,” along with an excerpt from some of her new work.
Edison’s Peace Week is an opportunity to consider the issue of peace, and it is held in connection with the International Dayton Literary Peace Prize celebration, which annually awards prizes “recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace.”
Wrinkle was runner-up for the 2014 fiction competition for “Wash,” her account of slave breeding in Tennessee in the 19th century.
Wrinkle said that she was honored “to have a chance to talk about peace in these times.” She also thanked the ancestors who came before her for inspiring this story.
“I sort of feel like it was headed for me all along,” Wrinkle said.
Wrinkle was born in 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, which she called an unacknowledged “war zone” at that time. She said that she felt connections to both the white and black communities, particularly the black caretakers her family employed to help raise her, like Miss Ida Washington.
“I was crossing racial boundaries,” Wrinkle said, adding that she was experiencing “divided loyalties.”
Wrinkle left her hometown to go to college in Connecticut and later moved to California. “I left thinking I could leave it all behind,” Wrinkle said.
When Washington died, though, Wrinkle realized that she had to go home. “I realized I hadn’t dealt with my story,” she said.
Wrinkle returned to Birmingham and began teaching in inner city Birmingham schools and working on a documentary about race in Birmingham that would be called “broken\ground.” Wrinkle went throughout Birmingham and talked to people about their experiences.
“They taught me how to listen by telling me their stories,” she said.
From there, Wrinkle continued being inspired by other people’s experiences. For her book “Wash,” she went back to the experiences of people involved in slavery — from slave holders to the people who were enslaved — in the early 1800s.
Wrinkle explained that some of the characters in “Wash” were inspired by spirits that she encountered through traditional West African spirituality while working with a West African teacher.
“The spirits were so powerful that they scared me,” she said.
Other characters were inspired by her own ancestors. Wrinkle — a seventh-generation Southerner on one side of her family and an eighth-generation Southerner on the other side — said, “I knew I had slave-holding ancestors.” She also suspected that she had ancestors who were involved in the breeding of slaves.
Wrinkle had different narrative storylines and different voices to weave together into one story, inspired in part by her own history as the descendant of slave owners and having been raised by people who were possibly descendants of slaves owned by her ancestors.
Wrinkle later read from excerpts from “Wash,” including a section in which over a dozen people were sold overnight after they poisoned the slave owner’s household, a story that was inspired by an account of a similar event that happened at a plantation that she learned about while doing research for her novel.
At the end of her presentation and reading, Wrinkle took questions from the audience, including one question about how to encourage people to listen other people’s experiences.
“Listen. Just listen. And wait,” she said.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org