Toward the end of Margaret Wrinkle’s stunning debut novel, Wash, the healer, Pallas, considers the simultaneous absence and presence of the title character in the years following his death. Wash, a slave owned by a discontented Revolutionary War veteran, worked as a breeding sire and labored, too, to maintain his dignity and his humanity. His true love, Pallas, sees him now in all the children around her, the children he fathered. She sees that everyone is all of one fabric: “...even those white folks, good and bad, here and gone, all of them are and always have been part of this one living breathing thing, moving through a time and a space bigger than any of them ever knew.”

It is the expansive and generous spirit of this novel that finds room within the horrors of slavery for an understanding of how this unfortunate institution came to be while never neglecting the complicated lives of the people involved, both black and white. Margaret Wrinkle, in prose that is by turns lyrical and gritty, patiently unfolds this story of transcendence. Wash is an unforgettable character, a heroic character, who rises above the ugliness of his circumstances. This is a genuinely American story that reminds us of our common humanity. Margaret Wrinkle has written a book that takes us further in our understanding of the political and cultural factors at work in the individual life while also calling attention to the importance of each man and woman who resists becoming what governments, institutions, and other people have insisted he or she be.

This powerful and beautifully written novel leaves us with the image of Pallas watching a flock of birds on the wing and this thought: “She feels her heart swell and contract right along with that flock breathing in the sky and she knows, just as sure as the shape of her own hands, we are all of us one thing. All here, all connected, all the time, regardless.”

Exactly. This is a novel sprung from a well-spring of immense artistry, a willingness to journey into darkness in order to come back to the light. Wash haunts us with its clearly-told tale and its reminder of what we share that can, no matter the depth of that darkness, redeem us and allow us to live with a peaceful heart.

— Lee Martin
2014 finalist judge

2014 Fiction Runner-Up

Margaret Wrinkle, photo © Dana Waldon
Click to see award video

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Margaret Wrinkle

“Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, the place Reverend Shuttlesworth called “the citadel of segregation,” taught me that competing truths never want to stand too close to one another. But reading and writing fiction enables us to bring these competing truths together on equal footing, to hold them close until they start to shimmer, until they begin to weave themselves into one whole story that can carry us toward healing. I am moved by the very existence of the DaytonLiterary Peace Prize and it is deeply heartening to see Wash celebrated for the exact reason that compelled me to write it.”

— Margaret Wrinkle              


Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Margaret Wrinkle is a writer, filmmaker, educator, and visual artist. Her award-winning documentary, broken\ground, about the racial divide in her historically conflicted hometown, was featured on NPR's Morning Edition and it won the Council on Foundations Film Festival. She lives in New Mexico.

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Excerpt from the book

A flock of blackbirds arrives in a cloud like music then settles in the treetops, falling quiet and disappearing into the stillness of its roost, but only for a moment before some internal disagreement, or maybe a hawk, sends them on again. All those small single bickering birds pour from their separate roosts, woven by movement back into one living breathing thing.

In that moment of seeing them fall in and out of moving together, Pallas knows, as clear and sure as a footprint, how things are and have always been. She sees that all of them, her and Wash, his mamma and Rufus and Phoebe, and even all those white folks, good and bad, here and gone, all of them are and have always been part of this one living breathing thing, moving through a time and a space bigger than any of them ever knew.


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