Hemans, Donna 1970(?)-

views updated

HEMANS, Donna 1970(?)-


Born c. 1970, in Brown's Town, Jamaica. Education: Fordham University, B.A. (English and journalism); American University, M.F.A.


Home—Maryland. Agent—c/o Simon & Schuster/Washington Square Press, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.


Journalist and author. Writers Center, Bethesda, Maryland, writing instructor.


Best new author, Black Issues Book Review, 2002; grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Prince George's Arts Council.


River Woman, Washington Square Press (New York, NY), 2002.


Down from Mosquito Mountain, a novel about a woman who must leave home and become a domestic helper.


Born in Jamaica, Donna Hemans grew up in Brown's Town, Jamaica, attended college in the United States, and has worked as a business journalist and as a writing instructor. She began seriously writing fiction in 1996 as part of her M.F.A. degree in creative writing. She wrote River Woman for her graduate thesis. In 2002, it was published in book form and widely praised as a sensitive and lyrical look at a relationship between a mother who has migrated to America and the daughter she left behind. The relationship is further complicated when the daughter must face accusations concerning her own son's death while a group of women are washing their clothes in a river.

According to Hemans in an interview on the Sisters in Spirit Book Club Web page, she was inspired to write the book by her memories of trips through the Jamaican countryside, where she saw life in numerous small towns and women washing at rivers. "But from a larger perspective—concerning the theme of migration—I wanted to look at migration from the perspective of the children left behind when their parents migrate." Hemans noted that she wanted to explore how these children "deal with the broken promises."

River Woman opens with Kelithe washing clothes in the River Minho in Standfast, Jamaica. A teenage, single mother, Kelithe suddenly hears screaming. Her son has drowned in the river. Many are suspicious that Kelithe let it happen because she wanted to go to America to be with her own mother, Sonya, who had left fifteen years earlier and promised that one day Kelithe could join her. Kelithe had recently received a note from her mother saying that Kelithe could join her but must leave her son behind, raising numerous suspicions. When Sonya hears about her grandson's death, she is torn between her loyalty to her daughter and her suspicions about Kelithe's actions. Hemans tells the story from both Kelithe's and Sonya's perspectives, using both the first-and third-person narratives.

Calling the book a "graceful, absorbing first novel," James Polk wrote in New York Times Book Review that the town of Standfast "is the novel's true protagonist, its moods shifting according to a sort of collective emotional climate." Writing in Black Issues Book Review, Sadeqa M. Johnson felt that Hemans "skillfully slips in and out of dialect with ease, giving the story an interesting color and character." She also noted how the author's "lyrical language and … intriguing story line" draw the reader in. Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush stated, "Heman's first novel is a powerful look at guilt, betrayal, stunted ambition, and tortured maternal instincts."



Black Issues Book Review, January-February, 2002, Sadeqa M. Johnson, review of River Woman, p. 56.

Booklist, December 1, 2001, Vanessa Bush, review of River Woman, p. 628.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of River Woman, p. 1633.

Library Journal, December 2001, Yvette W. Olson, review of River Woman, p. 172.

New York Times Book Review, July 28, 2002, James Polk, review of River Woman, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, December 24, 2001, review of River Woman, p. 43.


Donna Hemans Home Page,http://www.donnahemans.com/ (April 2, 2003)

Sisters in Spirit Book Club,http://www.sisbookclub.com/ (June 3, 2003), "Interview with Donna Hemans."*