Cynthia Bond’s first novel, “Ruby,” was just released by Random House in April and is already garnering overwhelming critical acclaim.
She speaks next with Eduardo Santiago as part of his Idyllwild Authors Series, now in its fourth season.
Bond charted an interesting course in her journey to writing her first novel. “My Dad was a professor of speech and theater at Kansas University so I grew up with theater and all those amazing stories,” recalled Bond. “I wanted to be part of that world.” But her mother had other thoughts about Bond’s college curriculum. “I went to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I had always written and this is what my mother wanted for me.”
She spent two years at Northwestern then quit to go to New York where she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art. “It was very exciting. I was cast in some great plays, including some of those of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller. I did TV guest spots. [Acting] was my first love.” In New York, she often worked with the Negro Ensemble Company where the roles for women were substantial, gritty and what she remembered as meaningful.
Bond said what drew her into acting were substantive stories that were well told. “I always wrote, even when acting. I have always considered myself a storyteller.”
But after a move to Los Angeles, her love for acting began to sour after many TV roles in which she was type-cast and the stories, after important work in New York, seemed insubstantial by comparison. “The stories were not very good,” she said of the Los Angeles acting scene. “Other women were beautiful and dressed up and I was in a maid’s uniform.”
Bond began a transition to teaching at-risk youth, helping them to write their stories. “Writing is a very healing process,” she said. “You take the things of shame and pain within you and get them onto paper and out of you.” She saw how therapeutic it was for her students. “No matter what happens in my life, I will always teach.”
Bond considers her work with at-risk youth a commitment she will not abandon. “I am at heart a social worker.” She, in fact, worked for years in that capacity. But returning to how writing helped these often homeless youth, she noted it provided a connection that gave them an entry into receiving social services and helped them to integrate back into society.
She is surprised at the success of “Ruby” and how it is changing her life. “Ruby,” according to reviewers, is not an easy read because of the subject matter, but already the comparisons of her work to that of great contemporary authors are out there. “It’s tempting to call up Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or Ntozake Shange,” wrote the Christian Science Monitor. “It should be done more as a compliment than comparison. Bond’s is a robustly original voice.”
“Ruby” is a story about one woman’s attempt to escape the legacy of violence and sexual predation against blacks, especially fair-skinned blacks who could pass for white, in a small Southern town. Following her mother’s escape, Ruby goes to New York “hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother [Random House book jacket copy].” Ruby finds in New York her voice and a place, but a subsequent return to her East Texas hometown finds her slowly descending into the dark alleyways of her past and into incipient madness. With one’s man’s love, one that had existed since their childhood, she begins, with his help and advocacy, to reclaim herself.
Bond’s multi-generational narrative will be published in three parts. Although a story that reviewers have said combines ghosts, magic, sexism, bigotry, insanity and abuse, “Ruby,” according to Bond, is “hopeful … I’m glad to be living with these characters,” she said. “I love their love for one another and for the magic they see in the world. I’m glad I won’t be saying goodbye to them for some time yet.”
“Ruby” is available in major bookstores and online at Amazon.com.
Bond appears with Santiago at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 15, on the deck of Cafe Aroma. There is no charge for the event. Based on the response (standing-room only) for Neile Adams McQueen’s talk, the first in the series, Santiago advised arriving early to get good seating.