Lincoln''s 12 stories view life struggles

BY CARMEN JOHNSON
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 25, 2001

In 12 short stories Christine Lincoln uncovers a web of characters living in Grandville, Md. young people who want better lives.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Pantheon

Expressed in beautiful and imaginative language, she tells the stories of African-Americans faced with realities and hardships. Lincoln"s influences, who include Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, are evident not only by subject matter but also through similarly emotionally-detailed characters.

Whether it"s pregnancy, abuse, death or just a need to escape, every character handles their situations in unique ways. Sounds depressing, huh?

But what makes an even better story is the author herself. It"s hard to imagine that this author was once a suicidal teen drug addict, who had an abortion at age 16.

Not anymore, though. Christine Lincoln, 35, graduated top of her class from Washington College in Chestertown, Md., a year ago. She won the 2000 Sophie Kerr Prize, given to "the graduating senior at Washington College who demonstrates the greatest ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor" for this debut collection of stories.

It also earned her $54,000, money she once desperately needed. Only a few years before entering college, her son Takii was born with major health problems and needed bladder surgery. Lincoln quit her job, sold everything and moved in with her family in order to pay the medical bills.

Takii recovered later and inspired Lincoln to look back at her life, and focus on what she really wanted to do write. She enrolled into college, without knowing how she would pay the $20,000 tuition.

Four years later she became the subject of many magazine and newspaper articles after winning the Sophie Kerr Prize, which hail her as the new voice in American literature.

She was also noticed by a well-known New York literary agent. "Bidding was competitive," according to Linton Weeks of The Washington Post, "with several (publishing) houses involved."

Lincoln, who is now studying at the University of Johannesburg, is feeling a lot of pressure to create good pieces of writing in the future. She is already working on a second book, a novel about rape and reconciliation set in South Africa.

Lincoln"s long road to college graduation, plus the recognition of her writing, is now the spotlight of many articles. What she went through is a testament to the favorite American belief and clich: No matter how dire one"s conditions may be, one should still reach for their dreams. Talent prevails over social status.

Lincoln"s voice can be heard through characters such as Ebbie Pinder who leaves the man who loves her because she needed something more, something that couldn"t be found in him or in their home.

"There were no street lights, just the moon to navigate her way, the sway of her hips, like a ship crossing the ocean taking her closer to where the train"s whistle sang her lament."

Or how about Sonny"s stranger, who came into his life "like wind, like a storm that blew in one night and was gone the next, leaving him with a yearning that would take years to fill."

Whether you read these short stories to learn about the character"s struggles, or to see why Lincoln received so much attention for her writing, you"ll find yourself enjoying her words.