the cover of the novel perish by latoya watkins



Spanning decades Perish tracks the choices Helen Jean—the matriarch of the Turner family—makes and the way those choices have rippled across generations, from her children to her grandchildren and beyond. Told in alternating chapters, Perish follows four members of the Turner family: Julie B., a woman who regrets her wasted youth and the time spent under Helen Jean’s thumb; Alex, a police officer grappling with a dark and twisted past; Jan, a mother of two who yearns to go to school and leave Jerusalem, Texas, and all of its trauma behind for good; and Lydia, a woman whose marriage is falling apart because her body can’t seem to stay pregnant, as they’re called home to say goodbye to their mother and grandmother.



LaToya Watkins was born in Texas. Her writing has appeared in A Public Space, The Sun, Kweli Journal, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Kenyon Review, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and elsewhere. She is a Kimibilo fellow and has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell, OMI: Arts, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Camargo Foundation. Perish is her debut novel. She lives and teaches in Dallas.

Five Questions for LATOYA WATKINS

On a desk in my home office is box full of index cards. On the cards are brief notes written about people I’ve encountered or seen and imagined lives for. I create full histories for these folks and I sit with them awhile before I file them away. When a plot or setting becomes clear to me, I revisit the box and flip through card until I find a card (or some cards) that fit. The characters in Perish were in that box long before I created Jerusalem to hold them, but I believe they would still be in that box if I hadn’t found Jerusalem because there is no other place that can properly hold them. Knowing who they were, what they looked like, and what they wanted allowed me place them in the Jerusalem and watch them respond to the world. Essentially, I was able to allow the story to grow around them and I became a witness to how they worked it out.

There are several violent moments in this book. I found those difficult to write. I think they were difficult because they had to exist somewhere in mind—I had to see these things—to feel them happen to the characters in order to get them on the page. That was the hard part. Sitting with the pain of these moments. The silence they created. How they left my characters. It was its own sort of trauma.

I always valued those quiet moments—the solitude. I was stubborn, which I now call determined. And I’ve always loved reading.

For me, a good day is when I wake up before sun, meet my dog at the front door, and we jog the whole three miles without stop. If this is how the day begins, I know it might be good enough to get some writing done. I might pray or mediate for an hour. I might get a good cup of coffee and read a few chapters from whatever I’m reading. I might not check my email until late afternoon. And there might be no bad news on the horizon. All of these things need to fall in place for writing to work out for me. If I wake up too late or check my email to early or miss the perfect morning air, I might be thrown off enough to skip writing (writing anything worth reading). I measure good days in sentences.

Gayl Jones’s Corregidora and Alice Walkerss  The Third Life of Grange Copeland