“As fascinating as a detective story. . . . An absorbing, intelligent consideration of national and personal identity, beautifully written.”
— Lee Smith, author of The Devil’s Dream
New Edition Includes “New Journeys, New Explorations”
Searching for Virginia Dare gained critical acclaim from novelists, reviewers, and historians alike when it first came out in 2002. Part detective story, part road trip, part memoir, it explored the mysterious disappearance of Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. Hudson’s lyrical language and self-revelation brings a fresh flavor to the centuries-old tale of the first English child in America.
This latest edition, Searching for Virginia Dare: On the Trail of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, from Press 53, features 33 pages of fresh writing detailing Hudson’s latest research, framed by a visit to Roanoke Island on Virginia Dare’s 425th birthday. As she travels, she spins tales of her ongoing obsession with the White Doe legend, the kudzu-wrapped landscape of Eastern Carolina, the fascinating hidden world of the Lumbee Indians, the relationship between an intrepid American woman sculptor in 1850s Rome — creator of the Virginia Dare Venus— and expat writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as discounted theories about what became of the colony that are now finding traction with historians.
Searching for Virginia Dare has been a popular text for advanced studies in Creative Nonfiction programs, from the MFA program at University of Alaska – Anchorage to the MA program at East Carolina University. It is written in a mosaic style — historical research, travelogue, fictional imaginings, images, and memoir — that creates a story shape mirroring the journey of the 1587 colonists, with its pregnant moms, its worried leaders, its encounters with Native people, unfamiliar fish, plants, and birds, and its extraordinary visions and insights.
Praise for Searching for Virginia Dare
“An intertwined tale of obsession, loss, and hope—in part truth, myth, and fiction. Hudson proves that a very talented writer can pull off a multi-genre story.” — Clyde Edgerton, author of Walking Across Egypt
“Hudson’s writing style is fluid and poetic…Those who value the art of writing as well as substance will enjoy this “fool’s errand.”
—North Carolina Libraries Journal
“Hudson forges an engaging blend of history, fiction, and memoir that commands the reader’s interest.” — Our State
“Hudson has invented a new genre, a sort of parting of the authorial curtain to reveal . . . the commonalities that bind both author and reader to someone of another place and time”— Chapel Hill Herald
“Hudson does a wonderful job of turning what for most has been a staid history lesson into an entertaining and informative read.” — “All Things Considered,” Public Radio East
“Hudson has written the book I wish I had written.” — E. Thomson Shields, Director, Roanoke Colonies Research Office
Author Interview, Searching for Virginia Dare
What set you on the trail of Virginia Dare?
MH: I’d dimly heard of Virginia Dare in literature and history references after I moved to North Carolina, but I really had no idea of the weight and fascination the story would hold for me. The invitation to explore Virginia’s story came in a letter one day from scholar, poet, and fiction writer Emily Herring Wilson, who is known for her work with women’s history and biography. She suggested I write an essay for an anthology about North Carolina women in history, and the name Virginia Dare came up. I realized at once that I knew very little about Dare, and took that as a challenge. Long story short, it turned into a book.
What’s new in this new edition?
MH: After the first edition came out in 2002, I had the opportunity to travel and learn more. I knew I wasn’t done with this subject! There seems to have been an explosion of new research, and I guess I have been part of that. I visited the Elinor Dare stones in Georgia, tracked down Rosebud Fearing in Elizabeth City, I kept up with developments with recognition for the Lumbee people, I kept tabs on new archeological finds and research, and the Native American identity movement. I also traveled to Rome and uncovered more about the sculptor of the Virginia Dare Venus and her friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne there, and I traveled to London and Oxford and was able to handle John White’s amazing paintings and maps and Thomas Hariot’s published work.
I knew I wanted to write about all these things and more, so I wrote a long essay covering ten years of ongoing obsession, and a trip to the 425th Birthday party for Virginia Dare at Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, NC.
Readers can read the original text and then read the essay and catch up with what’s been happening since 2002.
This book contains history, road trip, fiction, and memoir. Why did you decide to include all those things?
MH: It comes down to this: I started with history, hit a wall, turned to fiction, then opened up to memoir. It became a kind of natural process in my note-taking, and an one point, I decided to include all the different layers, especially the personal story, because the Virginia Dare story has so many emotional ups and downs for me, and I guessed that others would respond to it that way too.
For me, the search for Virginia Dare became a personal journey that borders on obsession – her story helped me face some losses in my life and uncovered some family mysteries.
One of my reviewers said the book was a guidebook for writers, because it transparently shows the difficult processes of research – blind alleys, personal struggle, connection with people, getting lost, and grappling for ways to make sense of material during the writing process.
You’ve received letters from people who responded to the story with great passion and personal identification.
At my first reading, a young woman came up to me and said, “Your book is my life.” Things like that kept happening wherever I went. I was amazed by that. I’ve also been very touched by letters from people who have illness or loss of a child in their families, and who say they have used reading the book aloud, or reading it at the shore, as a kind of healing. I do think books and stories can heal. They are an intimate view to the mind of another, which can be a kind of healing in itself.
You talk about the mystery of Virginia Dare—is there more to the mystery than her disappearance?
Lord, yes. There is the mystery of a great region and its Native people, and what life was like for them. There is the mystery of who all the colonists were, and whether their descendants survived as Native Americans. There is the mystery of family history—and the human obsession with the unknown, the missing, the family secret. This story has a strange power over people who know it, because it is a vessel, like those empty amphoras that were used to store anything and everything in the days of sailing ships. It holds the motion of the ship, the nature of the journey, as much as it might hold new wine.
People continue to come up with new theories about what happened to Virginia Dare, don’t they?
There’s been an absolute Renaissance in research and new literature on the subject. I’m learning new things all the time. It’s tantalizing! What if we really do find her grave, her people, her descendants someday? It could happen. Technology is making it easier than it was. And as long as people are interested in the story, there will be funding for new research.
Okay, we have to ask: what’s with the baobab tree in the first page of the book?
I always save this question to ask people at book club talks. Some of them guess right. I’ll leave that a mystery!