Tea By the Sea is a powder keg of a novel, where secrets and lies explode into truth and consequences, all told with spellbinding, shattering power. Hemans doesn’t just fulfill the promise of her debut— she soars past it.” — Marlon James, Man Booker Prize Winning author

Donna Hemans is the author of three novels, River Woman Tea by the Sea, and The House of Plain Truth. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Electric Literature, Ms. Magazine, and Crab Orchard Review, among others.

Her first novel, River Woman, was named co-winner of the 2003-4 Towson University Prize for Literature, and in 2015, she won the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature for the unpublished manuscript of Tea by the Sea.

Hemans was the 2007-2008 Black Mountain Institute (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) International Women’s Forum Fellow and twice served as the Lannan Visiting Creative Writer in Residence at Georgetown University. She has received grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Prince George’s County Arts Council, as well as residential fellowships from Hedgebrook, Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

She received her undergraduate degree in English and Media Studies from Fordham University and an MFA from American University. She serves on the board of The PEN/Faulkner Foundation. She lives in Maryland, and is also the owner of DC Writers Room, a co-working studio for writers based in Washington, D.C.

Donna's Featured Titles

The House of Plain Truth: A Novel

Zibby Books |
Literary Fiction

A lyrical, lush, evocative story about a fractured Jamaican family and a daughter determined to reclaim her home.

When Pearline receives grave news about her ailing father, she abruptly leaves Brooklyn for her childhood home in Jamaica. But Pearline isn’t prepared for a tense reunion with her sisters or for her father’s startling deathbed wish that she repair their long-broken family legacy and find the sister and two brothers no one has seen in more than 50 years.

Moving through time and place, from modern-day Brooklyn and Montego Bay to 1930s Havana and back again, The House of Plain Truth is a journey through generational secrets and a family coming to terms with its past.

Inspired by the author’s own history, this soulful novel explores a fascinating story of immigration, divided loyalties, and what one woman must sacrifice in her attempt to find home.

Tea by the Sea

Red Hen Press |

A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth; an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see; a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story–that of a family uniting and unraveling. To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must find the child’s father who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest. Her plan: confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her. From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces Plum’s circuitous route to find her daughter and how Plum’s and the priest’s love came apart.

River Woman

Washington Square Press |

As she washes her laundry in the Rio Minho, Kelithe is startled from her daydreams by women’s screams. It is not until she sees a small body in the shallow water that she realizes what has happened. Her young son has drowned. The Women of Standfast, Jamaica, whisper that she let Timothy die so that she could seize her chance to join her mother in America. Numb with grief, Kelithe lacks the strength to confront them. She can only wait for the funeral. And for her mother to come stand by her at last.

What really happened at the river? It is a question Kelithe’s mother cannot ask and an accusation Kelithe will not answer. And it lies at the heart of this shattering novel of promises kept and broken. In spare prose, Donna Hemans lays bare the human heart, exploring the unyielding bonds joining mother and child and the many facets of truth.


Writing Fiction From Personal Stories—No Matter How Small


Finding the Heart of Your Story—A Workshop on Revision


Writing Culture—A Talk on Dialect, Dialogue and Character


Leaning Into Your Obsessions: Writing About Absence, Belonging and Home


The Immigrant and the American Dream


Literature of Immigrant


The Immigrant Novel

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Tea by the Sea Reading Guide

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Honors, Awards & Recognition

National Reading Group | Great Group Reads Selection
Lignum Vitae Writing Award
Carribean Readers’ Awards

Media Kit

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where you can download author photos and cover images.

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