Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: Take My Hand

Banner image with Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez book on it

Law and Literature Weekend Seminar
Dolen Perkins-Valdez's Take My Hand

November 1-2, 2024


The Law and Literature Weekend Seminar is a beloved tradition at Washington and Lee, show- casing the very best of the liberal arts by bringing together faculty and participants to study a single work of literature from legal, ethical, and literary perspectives. Our 31st program will consider Take My Hand (2022), a novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez recognized with the 2023 Prize for Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, the 2023 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Fiction, and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, which is awarded to “an outstanding work that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system.”

Perkins-Valdez is a New York Times bestselling author and associate professor of literature at American University. She previously served as board chair for the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Her previous novels were widely acclaimed, including Wench (2010), which explores the dilemmas faced by four enslaved Black women as they contemplate a risky flight to freedom, and Balm (2015), a novel that follows three Black women in the aftermath of the Civil War. Perkins-Valdez’s ability to craft compelling narratives that capture problematic episodes of American history is on full display in Take My Hand.

Take My Hand is a fictionalized account of the events behind a federally funded program that led to the sterilization of over 100,000 women, most of whom were poor and Black or Latina. Often, consent for these procedures was obtained from guardians who were functionally illiterate, or it was collected through coercion. Relf v. Weinberger was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in response, which eventually led a federal court to acknowledge and condemn the practice of involuntary sterilization. The novel paints a similarly compelling and tragic legal narrative.

Perkins-Valdez chronicles this saga from the perspective of Civil Townsend, a Black nurse in post-segregation Alabama charged with birth control administration for two young girls, India and Erica Williams. After tubal ligation was performed on the Williams sisters at the direction of Civil’s employer, she struggles to reconcile her own moral obligations, her professional responsibility, and her burgeoning sense of regret. Issues of medical ethics, informed consent, reproductive rights, and eugenics abound, providing many important opportunities for discussion.

This year, our Law & Literature Seminar will be guided by Allison Weiss, professor of practice. Weiss teaches legal writing and prison litigation in W&L’s School of Law. She will be joined by a team of experts as we consider this outstanding novel. As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the 2024 program will seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. This program is open to everyone interested in literature—you do not need to be an attorney to attend.

Program Cost: $275 per person


Headshot of Allison Weiss

Headshot of Allison Weiss

Allison Weiss

Professor of Practice