February 27, 2002: Class Notes


1991-2001 & Graduate School

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Class Notes Profile:

Chris Chambers ’82 trades law for the pen
Breaks new ground with his first novel

Photo by richard dole photography

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.”

Chambers’s 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 doesn’t fit the FBI-agent stereotype: She’s “not a superwoman — she’s 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 to do.”

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.


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