The Serpent’s Gift

The Serpent's Gift Helen Elaine Lee Scribner, 1995

The Serpent’s Gift
Helen Elaine Lee
Scribner, 1995

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One of the most striking and heartening developments in American letters in recent years has been the flowering and attendant celebration of African-American writers and of books that have introduced to readers everywhere people, situations, and events that have, hitherto, largely been ignored, denied, or unknown. Now comes Helen Elaine Lee’s supremely assured The Serpent’s Gift, a first novel that gives to us—with the fullest emotional resonance, humor, and exultation in the novelist’s art—the intertwined stories of two families from early in this century to our own times.

Central to this haunting (and sometimes haunted) novel are the mothers, a study in contrast in strength and rigidity, Ruby Staples and Eula Smalls, and their children: LaRue Smalls, adventurer, storyteller, and chronicler of his people; his sister Vesta, intimidated by life from an early age, yet determined, valiant even, to hold her disparate family together; and Ouida Staples, a rare beauty who elects, in the face of convention, to spend her life with another woman. Each will face trials and challenges and sometimes be transformed, shedding like the serpent, an old skin, reborn by the art of invention.

Helen Elaine Lee

About Helen Elaine Lee

Helen Elaine Lee was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Her first novel, The Serpent's Gift, was published by Atheneum in 1994 and her second novel, Water Marked, was published by Scribner in 1999. She finished Life Without, a novel about the lives of ten people who are incarcerated in two neighboring U.S. prisons, and The Hard Loss, a novel about a DNA exoneree's first week of freedom after twenty four years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit. Stories from Life Without have appeared in Callaloo, Prairie Schooner, Hanging Loose, Best African American Fiction 2009 (Bantam Books), and solsticelitmag.org. Helen is a member of the Board of Directors of PEN New England, and she serves on its Freedom to Write Committee and volunteers with its Prison Creative Writing Program. She has written about the experience of teaching creative writing in prison in a New York Times Book Review essay, “Visible Men”.