Ruth Coe Chambers

The Chinaberry Album

Excerpt from The Chinaberry Album


Our next door neighbor, Miss Red, knew all the signs from the Book of Revelation and thought the end of the world was coming at most any time. When the picture show was completed, she was certain the end couldn’t be far off. It pained her terribly to see people drawn to a place of sin, especially young people.

Living so close to Miss Red made it pretty hard on me at times. Nearly every Saturday it was the same thing. I’d dress with special care, and when it was time to leave for the picture show, I’d clutch a quarter tightly in my hand, eager to join the line waiting for the double feature to begin. But then I’d stop and look out the side window. Miss Red would be waiting for me on her front porch. There was no chance of my missing her by leaving early. Not even bothering to finish her meal, she’d come out and wait for me with a glass of iced tea in her hand. I’d stand for a minute with my hands against the screen door; then I’d fling it open and race across the porch and down the steps as fast as I could. I’d pretend I didn’t see her, but she’d holler anyway.

“Hey there, Anna Lee Owens, how’d you like to be in the picture show when Jesus comes?”

I’d often wondered how she was so sure Jesus would pick Bay Harbor for His Second Coming, but I never asked her about it.

“This just might be the day, you know. He’ll come like a thief in the night. Now think Anna Lee, think how you’d feel if He found you in the picture show!”

She always spoiled a little of the show for me. Sometimes in the middle of the picture, I’d hear noises from the street and think the world really was coming to an end. I could almost see Jesus standing in front waiting for me to come out.

The New York Times Book Review --Katherine Burkett, April 10, 1988


“The World War II Gulf Coast town of Bay Harbor has a prominent Baptist church, “nigra” quarters tucked discreetly across the tracks, and a tradition that well-bred children should be seen and not heard. Nine-year-old Anna Lee Owens has been trained in that tradition, so she suffers in silence her childhood fears that a bully named Hazel will catch her alone—or that her beloved Uncle Johnn will marry and move away.
... Ruth Coe Chambers uses Anna Lee’s point of view artfully as she explores the terror of growing up in a world full of conflicting rules and values.”

Wondrous Novel Tells of Life in the South --Chauncey Mabe, BookEditor,
New/​Sun-Sentinel, Sunday, August 28, 1988


“... Both the joys and agonies of small-town or rural life are presented—neighborliness and backbiting, the pleasant leisurely pace and the stifling boredom, the largeness of heart and the smallness of mind. Often, at least part of the story explores the sad reality of race relations in the pre-civil rights era.
... there is not a false note. A complex plot is woven, but every thread comes together at the end to give the book a satisfying unity that does not compromise the depth of its characterizations. Indeed, the author keeps deepening character right to the last sentence, one that will bring tears to the eyes of many readers—well earned tears, not cheap ones.”

Selected Works

Magazine Articles
Crimson Love
Essay
Drama
Examines the twists and turns in the lives of the deceased, his widow and sister.
Literary Works
“... a delicious period piece, full of the authentic flavor of the deep South."
--Rosemary Daniell
Author of Fatal Flowers and writing coach "Heat Lightning is a moving read you'll be sad to see end.
--Carol Costello
WRITE IN THE ZONE blogger and author of Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption "An enthralling read . . . Anna Lee (is) a character you won't soon forget."
-- Adair Lara
Writing coach and author of Naked, Drunk and Writing