Perry, Phyllis Alesia
PERRY, Phyllis Alesia
PERSONAL: Born in Atlanta, GA. Education: University of Alabama, degree (communications).
ADDRESSES: Home—Atlanta, GA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion Editorial Department, 77 West 66th St., Eleventh Floor, New York, NY 10023.
CAREER: Author, newspaper editor, reporter, and freelance writer. Alabama Journal, Montgomery, assistant city editor, editor, and copy editor; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, editor, copy editor, and reporter.
AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, and Distinguished Service Award, Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, both 1988, both for reportage of Alabama's infant mortality crisis; Georgia Author of the Year Award for a first novel, 1999, for Stigmata.
Stigmata (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
A Sunday in June (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
Stigmata was translated into German.
SIDELIGHTS: Journalist Phyllis Alesia Perry has written two novels about an African-American family haunted by an ancestor's experiences of slavery. Her first novel, Stigmata, involves contemporary events and the latest generation of the family. Lizzie DuBose is fourteen years old when she inherits a quilt made by her estranged grandmother Grace. The quilt causes the girl to relive parts of Grace's life as well as the horror of the Middle Passage—the route slave ships traveled between Africa and the Americas—through her great-great-grandmother Ayo's eyes. Lizzie also receives the bloody marks of chains on her wrists and ankles, which manifestation convinces her parents that she has tried to commit suicide and leads to her institutionalization for fourteen years. When Lizzie eventually learns to cope with her strange connection to these departed women, Lizzie's mother also gains a better understanding of her own feelings about Grace.
Reviewers praised Stigmata as an impressive first novel. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Paula L. Woods said the story is "told with quiet assurance and jewel-like imagery that showcase, but do not shout, Perry's formidable skill and craftsmanship." Woods remarked that the book "reads as both contemporary novel and parable, a cautionary tale of the futility of running from our past and the consequences of such flight for progeny." Emerge critic Trudier Harris found the book to be "strikingly well conceived and well written for a first effort. It is engaging from the opening page to its conclusion."
Perry's second novel, A Sunday in June, serves as a prequel to Stigmata. This novel explores the lives of Grace and her sisters Mary Nell and Eva. The novel also provides further insight into Ayo's life. Like Lizzie, Grace is possessed by Ayo through the slave's quilts as well as a diary, and like Lizzie she receives the stigmata of chain markings. Mary Nell and Eva also possess supernatural powers. They have combined visions of the future, including the rape of Eva by Mary Nell's husband, an event that will tear the twin-like sisters apart. Throughout the story, their mother, Joy, seeks to suppress everything related to these powers, which she associates with a shameful past.
Perry's evocation of these troubled lives was described as dark and intriguing by reviewers. Writing in Library Journal, Jennifer S. Baker commented that "the legacy of slavery and racism … is aptly portrayed here," although she noted that the subject matter "makes for difficult reading." Jeff Zaleski remarked in Publishers Weekly that "Perry's novel repeats itself (and hearkens too much to its predecessor), but it's an absorbing read, a portrait of hard lives bravely lived." Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Audrey Niffenegger felt that the author's skill in handling the complex story is admirable, commenting: "Perry's novel is satisfyingly unsentimental, and her writing is clear, direct and spare." Niffenegger concluded that the story is "at once frustrating and thought-provoking." T. Belinda Williams, writing in Black Book Review, concluded that "dipping into the realms of the unknown may border on taboo for some, but this story's depth, feeling and compassion keep the pages turning."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 2, 1998, Paula L. Woods, review of Stigmata, p. L13; March 28, 2004, Rudolph Byrd, review of A Sunday in June, p. M8.
Black Book Review, April 30, 2004, T. Belinda Williams, review of A Sunday in June, p. 6.
Booklist, November 15, 1998, Brad Hooper and Bonnie Smothers, review of Stigmata, p. 570; January 1, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of A Sunday in June, p. 826.
Chicago Sun-Times, March 21, 2004, Audrey Niffenegger, review of A Sunday in June, p. 14.
College English, March, 2002, Lisa A. Long, "A Relative Pain: The Rape of History in Octavia Butler's Kindred and Phyllis Alesia Perry's Stigmata," p. 459.
Emerge, September, 1998, Trudier Harris, review of Stigmata, p. 66.
Library Journal, January, 2004, Jennifer S. Baker, review of A Sunday in June, p. 159.
Publishers Weekly, January 19, 2004, Jeff Zaleski, review of A Sunday in June, p. 53.
In Motion Online, http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ (August 26, 2004), "Phyllis Alesia Perry."*