by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
Local Author Tom DeWolf is in the midst of a rigorous tour for his recent book, Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade. The tour brought him home to Central Oregon in January where he and his co-author, Sharon Leslie Morgan, are hoping to begin a national dialogue regarding the lingering and current harms of slavery and racism.
After a long career in local public service, DeWolf took a step towards a life long passion. “I have wanted to be a writer since I was 18 and never really had the courage to go for it and pursue it,” he explained. “I have started the great American novel at least a dozen times, and have a children’s book that I just love and have been sending out for 20 years (and gotten lots of rejection letters). All my life I have joked about wondering what I would be when I grow up and now I am finally there.”
DeWolf isn’t a stranger to the written word; he has been taking writing classes, workshops and attending writing conferences for years, has college degrees in Ancient Rhetorical Study, Biblical Studies and Speech, and he spends much of his time doing the best primary research available: reading.
Following a stint on the Oregon Arts Commission as an appointed commissioner in 2005 he decided to give writing a chance for a year…and within three years published his first book, Inheriting the Trade, and seven years later his second, Gather at the Table, was released to much critical acclaim.
The catalyst to his journey towards becoming an author began in 2001. That summer he joined nine distant relatives on a journey to trace the roots of their slave-trading ancestors from Rhode Island to Ghana and Cuba. “I didn’t tell any of my cousins, but yes, I went into the trip thinking I would write a book…at that point I didn’t know if I was just writing it for my kids or grandkids [or more].
“My goal was to have it read like a novel even though it was non-fiction,” DeWolf said. “I’m not one of these scholarly types, and personally I struggle reading scholarly books. I want people to enjoy reading my books, or if they struggle with the concepts, I don’t want the reading to get in the way of it. I want people to find it embraceable. My goal in writing is to communicate as well as I can the stories I have to tell.”
Throughout DeWolf’s journey that summer he took copious notes and ended up with a 15,000 page manuscript. Through many revisions, help from his cousins, an agent and new editor at Beacon Press, Inheriting the Trade was published at 270 pages. “Having a professional editor is heaven,” he exclaimed. “I’m so lucky to be associated with Beacon Press.”
His journey into publishing was a story much like that of many new authors trying to break into the literary world: a rocky and harrowing process. “I was rejected by 16 agents, and the 17th agent I got to represent me redid my book proposal, and sent it to 20 publishers. It was then rejected by 15.” Now an established author, his path to press is much easier.
Prompted by his revealing journey into the dramatic past of his lineage, DeWolf’s subject matter has been heavily focused on the legacy of slavery and the racism as it exists in the past and today. In his current book, Gather at the Table, he and Morgan are trying to, “understand how historic harms and trauma that is not healed is passed down from generation to generation.”
Through the science of epigenetics, DeWolf explains that traumatic events in people’s lives can trigger certain aspects in their DNA. Those triggers on the genes are passed down to children and grandchildren. “White people whose ancestors were slave holders or slave traders can pass that down…I’m hoping my experience [discovering my ancestors were slave traders] will encourage white people to research more and educate ourselves more about the impact these historic events have on our lives.”
For his next book DeWolf hopes to break from the non-fiction genre of his first two books and try his hand at fiction writing. “My whole life I just wanted to write fiction…I want the next book to be a novel. I love the creation of worlds and stories, and the lessons and messages they carry with them.”