- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

CHESTERTOWN, Md. When Christine Lincoln returned to Washington College recently for the first stop on a national tour to promote her first book, she already had completed a remarkable journey.
Ms. Lincoln graduated at the top of the class at this small liberal arts college in 2000 and won the $54,000 Sophie Kerr Prize, an award for the most promising writer on campus.
Within six months, she received a $135,000 advance from Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, for a collection of short stories called "Sap Rising." The six-week tour to promote that book, published in September, takes her to Washington, New York, Boston, St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle, among other cities.
Such success would have seemed improbable for Ms. Lincoln when she entered Washington College in 1997.
She was a poor, 31-year-old single mother of a 4-year-old boy. She had endured sexual abuse as a child and overcome drug and alcohol addiction and domestic violence as a young adult. She was among a small group of blacks on campus and an even smaller group of older, nontraditional students.
"The most amazing story she has crafted is that of her life," said Bob Mooney, head of the creative-writing department at Washington College and Ms. Lincoln's faculty adviser during her years on campus.
Before reading a couple of her short stories to a crowd of some 200 admirers who filled a campus lecture hall during a recent visit, Ms. Lincoln thanked Mr. Mooney for helping cultivate her career.
"He talked me into my destiny," she said.
In an interview afterward, Ms. Lincoln also mentioned her grandmother, who captivated her with stories as she was growing up in Lutherville, Md., outside Baltimore.
Ms. Lincoln also credited her deep faith in God for turning around her life. A "profound spiritual experience" helped her kick her drug and alcohol addictions, and her faith has helped her persevere through turmoil since then, she said.
"God speaks to my heart all the time," Ms. Lincoln said. "Everything she tells me, I believe."
Ms. Lincoln said she has been a voracious reader since childhood and counts Somerset Maugham, William Faulkner and Toni Morrison among her favorite authors.
Drawn to Washington College by the Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest undergraduate literary award in the country, she persuaded the college to give her a scholarship. She arrived with little writing experience, however, having penned only a few poems as a teen-ager and taken some English courses at Baltimore City Community College.
"What Washington College gave me in my education was the ability to find my own voice," Ms. Lincoln said. "Here they celebrate and embrace that spirit of being able to challenge and find your own way.
"That's basically how the stories came."
Ms. Lincoln's stories in "Sap Rising" are vivid, poetic pieces about the stormy relationships between family members and friends in a small, rural black community not unlike the Lutherville of her grandmother's time.
In one of the stories, "Like Dove Wings," two sisters clash, and their opposing views are presented in separate first-person dialogues. Then they reconcile, and their voices merge.
"My words had been the tears, and the prayers, my mournin' song, and in the tellin', they had become hers too," says Loretta, one of the sisters.
Ms. Lincoln said she often feels more like "a vessel" than a writer.
"I see these images, and I hear these sounds, and I just record what I'm seeing and hearing, and it is so real that I believe these people actually exist on some other realm that I'm not aware of yet," Ms. Lincoln said. "That's how real they are now."
Writing has become a comforting ritual for Ms. Lincoln.
After the horror of last month's terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, "I immediately started writing," she said. "That's the only way I know how to make sense of this crazy world that we live in."
Ms. Lincoln said she hopes her work is an inspiration to others, particularly aspiring authors.
"If they can just look at my life and say, 'If she can do it, then I can do it' and keep writing, that means a lot," she said.
Shy and soft-spoken, Ms. Lincoln said she is nervous about the book tour that will take her to a dozen cities by mid-November.
"I just want to do well," she said. "I just want to bring people my words."
When her book tour concludes, Ms. Lincoln plans to return with her son to South Africa, where she is pursuing a doctorate in African literature at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
She'll keep writing there. She already has finished a second book and plans to start a third.
"I find stories everywhere," she said. "There are rich stories on a bus, a crowded bus, and I just open up myself to them."
Scores of those who attended the reading at Washington College lined up afterward with copies of "Sap Rising." Ms. Lincoln spent more than an hour talking to them and signing their books.
"Even if this book doesn't do what it's expected to do, just for that moment, to know that I've touched so many people's lives, that's enough for me," she said.

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