East Texas native Cynthia Bond got some great news on Tuesday. Oprah Winfrey selected Bond’s “Ruby,” the tale of a woman who comes back to hometown of Liberty and faces a series of challenges, as her latest book club pick.
The news means that “Ruby,” which came out last year in hardback and had moderate sales, will be getting a paperback printing of more than 250,000 copies by the publisher, Hogarth.
Bond’s book is set in an East Texas town near Houston and focuses on a black woman, Ruby Bell, who “was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high.”
Bond’s novel is Winfrey’s first choice in just over a year, when she selected Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings.”
Bond, now a resident of Los Angeles, studied journalism at Northwestern University and lived for years in New York, where she acted with the Negro Ensemble Company. During a telephone interview with the Associated Press, she said that she worked on the novel for more than a decade and that it will likely be the first of a trilogy. She had written 900 pages for “Ruby,” but decided to separate it into three books after her mother, then her agent, suggested it.
“Ruby” draws upon stories Bond has heard while working with at-risk youth in Los Angeles, and was also inspired by a horrifying event in her family’s history. In the 1930s, Bond’s aunt was shot by the sheriff and his deputies, all rumored to be members of the Ku Klux Klan, because she had been involved with a white man. Her body was dumped in a sack and thrown onto her grandfather’s porch.
“This has impacted our family so much and was the base from where the story (of ‘Ruby’) started,” Bond told the AP.
In praising the book, Winfrey compared it to works by Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, authors that the 53-year-old Bond cites as influences. She and Winfrey have had much to say to other, the Associated Press noted. Bond, like Winfrey, has known difficult, despairing times. She was sexually and physically abused as a child and says writing helped her cope with near-suicidal depression. They also share a connection to Maya Angelou, who died last year. Bond is the daughter of a literature and theater professor and met Angelou as a child. Winfrey knew Angelou for decades and often spoke of the poet as a mentor and mother figure.
Kirkus Reviews said that “Ruby” was “a very strong first novel that blends tough realism with the appealing strangeness of a fever dream” in a review last year.
The review said: “When we first meet Ruby Bell, she’s a symbol of local disgrace: It’s 1974, and a decade earlier she returned to her hometown of Liberty seemingly gone crazy. The local rumor mill (mostly centered around the church) ponders a host of reasons: the lynching of her aunt; her being forced into prostitution as a child; a stint in New York, where she was the rare black woman in a white highbrow literary milieu. The only person who doesn’t keep his distance is Ephram, a middle-aged man who braves the town’s mockery and the mad squalor of Ruby’s home to reconnect with her. Bond presents Ruby as a symbol of a century’s worth of abuse toward African-Americans; as one local puts it, “Hell, ain’t nothing strange when Colored go crazy. Strange is when we don’t.” ’
The Associated Press contributed to this report.