February 27, 2002: Class Notes
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It took more than a decade, but Christopher Chambers 82 has finally
found his calling. Chambers first practiced law for firms in Baltimore
and Washington, then headed to the Justice Department to enforce toxic-waste
cleanups. But in 1999 he quit the law not because he hated it,
but because he decided that writing would be more fulfilling. I
saw what was on the other side of the river, Chambers says. You
have to spread your wings, because otherwise you lose them.
Chamberss debut novel, Sympathy for the Devil (Crown Publishers,
2001), reached bookstores in September. The thriller broke new ground
and inspired buzz in publishing circles by featuring an
African-American woman FBI agent, Angela Bivens, as its protagonist. Bivens
doesnt fit the FBI-agent stereotype: Shes not a superwoman
shes just an average person, Chambers says. She works
hard to establish her place in an overachieving family, including an older
sister who attended Princeton. And like Chambers, Bivens began as a lawyer
before drifting into a different career.
Writing a novel from the female perspective was a special challenge,
Chambers says. I may sound like a traitor to my gender, but I think
women are more interesting as characters, he says. They have
conflicted personalities that provide dramatic tension. They can express
two emotions in two seconds with no problem. Men find that extremely hard
Chambers, who also teaches communications at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, had to make a big decision in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. They happened just as he was about to begin a book tour. Chambers asked fellow authors whether promoting his book, and the violence it contains, would be appropriate. Ultimately, he decided to make the trip. The biggest reason to go was that thousands of years ago, when the world was dangerous and depressing for everyone, the humans who sat around the campfire told themselves scary stories, he says. To them, that kind of fear was controllable, and because you could harness it, that made it easier to deal with the darkness.
By Louis Jacobson 92
Louis Jacobson is a staff correspondent at National Journal in Washington.