Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Wench, visited my tenth grade classes as part of our third unit of the school year. The unit theme was love, and the essential question was: Does love free us or cage us? Throughout the unit, students discussed and wrote about this question while referencing examples from the novel Wench, William Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew” and Roald Dahl’s short story “Lamb to the Slaughter.” Shortly after Ms. Perkins-Valdez visited, students had to turn in their final first semester essay in which they argued their answer to the essential question.
By participating in a dialogue with Ms. Perkins-Valdez’s about not only love, but also freedom and civil rights, my students strengthened their understanding of the characters in the novel, which helped the writing come more easily. Wench is a perfect anchor text to debate the existence of true love and whether its magic works to constrain or liberate those who fall under its spell. Many students successfully argued that the protagonist, a sla
ve named Lizzie, was caged by her love for her master, Drayle. Other students argued with equal success that Drayle’s love for Lizzie and Lizzie’s love for herself, her friends and her children provided opportunities for independence. Whichever side a student took, they were required to provide evidence and explanations.
In addition to discussing the characters in the novel, my students asked many questions about Ms.Perkins-Valdez’s life and career. Her sincerity and humor created an enjoyable experience for all, and each class passed more quickly than the last.
— Clare Berke
Instructor of English
Coolidge High School