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Bethany Mitchell

PMS 14 | 2015

An Interview with Margaret Wrinkle

About Margaret Wrinkle

Born and raised in Birmingham, Margaret Wrinkle is a writer, filmmaker, educator, and visual artist. Her debut novel Wash reexamines American slavery in ways that challenge contemporary assumptions about race, power, history, and healing. Published by Grove Atlantic, Wash recently won the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty Dunnan First Novel Prize and has been named a Wall Street Journal Top Ten novel of the year, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, an O magazine selection for “10 Books to Pick Up Now,” and a People magazine 4-star pick.

Margaret Wrinkle. Read the full interview (pdf).Margaret earned a BA and an MA in English from Yale University and studied traditional West African spiritual practices with Malidoma Somé. She has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and lives in rural New Mexico. Her award-winning documentary broken\ground was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and was a winner of the Council on Foundations Film Festival. It was made with Chris Lawson about the racial divide in her historically conflicted hometown of Birmingham.

It should come as no surprise that others have crowned Margaret Wrinkle with so many awards and honors. Her novel, Wash, has exploded into the literary world like a cannon shot, obliterating what people thought they knew about slavery and the South. This story centers around a 19th-century enslaved man named Washington, or Wash for short. His owner, General Richardson of Tennessee, struggles under financial pressure and turns Wash into a breeding sire. Importantly, Wrinkle does not sugar coat, hide, or dismiss racial tensions that have haunted America in the past and still do so today. Instead, violent truths bleed out through the pages of Wash even as the characters struggle to find healing and resolution.

Read the Full Interview (pdf)

Consider this moment as Wash compares himself to a stallion fighting in vain against his bindings: “I saw myself rearing against the rope wrapped round my middle. I saw myself striking at that wall stretching out forever in front of me, till I finally saw the only thing giving was me, over and over, till finally it was plain old tiredness that rescued me. Taut turning to slack, and then my breath coming long and slow, carrying the trembling away and washing me clean while I stood in the quiet of Richardson’s barn” (Wrinkle 211).

Here, the reader experiences Wash’s internal and physical struggle as he reflects on his captivity. The words of Ron Rash, author of Serena and The Cove, echo in this passage. Rash calls the novel “bold, unflinching,” something that is “certain to haunt the reader for a long, long time.”

While speaking about her novel during UAB’s Visiting Writers Series, Margaret Wrinkle said, “One of the many things that happened during American slavery was that traditional African indigenous reality collided with modernizing Western European reality to create a new country. This collision between two very different ways of being is still reverberating, still unfolding, still happening now.” In this sense, Wrinkle uncovers the wounds of the past in hopes of a future healing. But for healing to take place, there first must be pain. Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row, repeats this idea. He states about the novel, “Wash tells a chapter of our past that we would rather look away from. Margaret Wrinkle makes sure that we cannot.”

In a way, Wrinkle chains us to the text; we cannot stop flipping the pages. We must know how it all ends. In my position on poemmemoirstory’s staff, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview a writer unafraid to tackle some of society’s most uncomfortable topics. I hope you enjoy my discussion with Margaret as she connects us with her characters, with history, and with the shadows within ourselves.

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