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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Author of The Wedding Gift to speak at URI, Feb. 15

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Book explores the dark world of American slavery

KINGSTON, R.I. –February 2, 2012–Human rights attorney Marlen Suyapa Bodden has more than 20 years on the front lines representing disadvantaged and immigrant workers in New York. She tapped into that experience and knowledge of human trafficking, human rights abuses, and modern day slavery to write her first novel, The Wedding Gift, set in pre-Civil War times and based on an actual 1840 Alabama court case.

Bodden will give her talk on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 4 p.m. in the University of Rhode Island’s Galanti Lounge of the Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons, 15 Lippitt Road, Kingston. It is free and open to the public.

“The URI Africana Studies Program is privileged to have a person like Ms. Bodden joining us for our annual Black History Month lecture,” said Vanessa Wyner Quainoo, the program’s interim director. “She is an extraordinary writer who explores an often overlooked part of the American slavery narrative.”

The Wedding Gift, just released last month, draws readers into the dark world of American slavery, delivering an unflinching account of the tactics used to control slave and free women alike. The novel reveals how wealthy planters coerced women--black and white, exposing the brutality of slavery in the antebellum American South and its impact on one family and its women.

The sweeping historical novel tells the story of what transpires when Cornelius Allen, a wealthy plantation owner, marries off his daughter Clarissa and presents her with a wedding gift: a young slave woman, Sarah, who happens to be his daughter as well, the product of his long-term sexual relationship with a slave. When Clarissa's husband rejects her newborn son as illegitimate and sends Clarissa and Sarah back to the Allens, their return sets in motion a series of events that will ultimately destroy the once-powerful family.

Told through the alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Cornelius' wife, Theodora, the story twists and turns through the wealthy planter and merchant societies of Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana and New York, culminating in the British West Indies with a controversial, even shocking, ending. The author’s knowledge of modern and historical slavery as well as human trafficking, gives the story its authenticity and raw emotion.

Bodden got the inspiration for The Wedding Gift, after reading about a 19th Century court case in Talladega County, Ala. where a slave owner sued his wife for divorce and won the property rights to a young slave woman whom his wife had brought to the marriage as a wedding gift from her father. The story takes place in the antebellum period of the South, but modern-day slavery, Bodden says, parallels the appalling conditions of that time.

Bodden says the story sheds light on how plantation owners controlled not only their slaves, but also their wives and daughters. "My novel explores how planters restrained and repressed slaves and free women alike, propelling them along a treacherous social tightrope as they struggled for freedom and autonomy in an oppressive and patriarchal world. Today, human traffickers around the world using similar tactics of coercion, make slavery a $32 billion a year industry. The parallels between modern-day slavery and slavery in the antebellum South, most notably the use of violence and the threat of violence, are chilling."

The Wedding Gift is available online at Amazon.com, and through additional wholesale and retail channels worldwide.

For more information, contact the URI Africana Studies Program at 401.874-2536.