Today I have the Author of Tea By the Sea, Donna Hemans as a guest on my blog as she talks about ‘The Yellow House in Woodhall’. I am very thankful to Rachel at Over The River Public Relations for the opportunity.
About Donna Hemans
Jamaican-born Donna Hemans is the author of the novel River Woman, winner of the 2003-4 Towson University Prize for Literature. Tea by the Sea, for which she won the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature, is her second novel.
Her short fiction has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Caribbean Writer, Crab Orchard Review, Witness, and the anthology Stories from Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad, among others. She received her undergraduate degree from Fordham University and an MFA from American University. She lives in Maryland, and is also the owner of DC Writers Room, a co-working studio for writers based in Washington, D.C.
The Yellow House in Woodhall
Some years into Plum’s search to find the daughter taken from her at birth, she learns that her child’s father, Lenworth, grew up in Woodhall, Clarendon, on the southern side of Jamaica. Plum travels to Jamaica, with the hope that finding Lenworth’s mother would also mean she would find Lenworth and her missing child.
Plum travels out of the capital city, Kingston, “following turn after turn, until she was on the highway to Spanish Town, driving past acres of cane plants, the thin leaves waving in the breeze, the rich, green leaves and red dirt vibrantly colorful in the tropical sun.” When Plum finds the house, she “looked down at the photo and up at the house, at the yellow paint on the outer walls and blue on the verandah and red floor.”
When I wrote that section, I had in mind the house where my mother spent most of her childhood. For most of her childhood, my mother lived in Woodhall with two aunts, her siblings and a cousin. I wanted to capture that house, as I had captured my father’s childhood home in Anchovy, which is the house where Lenworth lived for several years after he disappeared with the baby.
The house in Woodhall looks almost exactly as it had when I was a child, except for the security grill, which was added in the more recent past. The verandah’s floor is tiled, but in my mind it was polished red. Perhaps I’m remembering the wood floor running throughout the house, polished a deep brown.
When Plum pulls up to the house, she sees Lenworth’s mother on the verandah, much the way my grandaunts sat on the verandah looking out to see who was approaching the house or where they stood and waved goodbye when we prepared to leave. In the novel, we also see Lenworth approach the back of the house and the outdoor kitchen where his mother was cooking. For a long time, my grandaunts used an outdoor kitchen, and in that scene I wanted to capture what it was like being at that house watching chickens running around the yard, my young cousins playing in the worn yard, and clothes blowing on the line near the kitchen.
It’s almost impossible to capture all the nuances of a house and a life, to remember all the details that make a house a home and the details that my elderly relatives remember about the houses in which they grew up. But my hope is to give life to places that live in our memories, and in some small way hold on to a piece of my own history.
Thank you Donna for being here today with us. Wish you all the very best for your beautiful new book! xx
About ‘Tea by the Sea’
Named a Best Book of the Week by New York Post
Featured in Ms Magazine’s June 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us
Winner of the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature
A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth, an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see, a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story—that of a family uniting and unraveling. To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must find the child’s father who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest. Her plan: confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her. From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces Plum’s circuitous route to finding her daughter and how Plum’s and the priest’s love came apart.