I’m a writer. I believe that the stories we read and write and tell have the power to shape and change our lives. I believe that – because a story changed my life.
Eleven years ago, when I lived in Texas, I visited the lowcountry. It was my first experience here, and it was brief, but we made time for a carriage tour through the historic district of Beaufort. And that’s when I heard a little bit of the story of a man named Robert Smalls. I’d never heard his name, and I’d never heard the story. But he intrigued me. His courage, and his heroism, and his contributions, and legacy intrigued me.
His story ignited my curiosity. Curiosity led to exploration, and exploration led to discovery, and I discovered how little I knew about our history. I discovered how little I understood about the experiences of enslaved people in our country. I discovered that some stories get amplified, while other stories get silenced
To make a long story short, the story of Robert Smalls opened my eyes and my mind and my heart, and moved me across the country because I felt compelled – called – to share his story. We moved to Beaufort so that I could research and write the book, Trouble the Water.
Here’s what I know about stories. Stories connect us.
Stories shape us.
Stories cultivate our compassion. Stories encourage empathy.
Stories can also provoke us – because the stories that shape each of us are all a little different - new stories may provoke us to disagreements and arguments. It can be hard for us to let go of the stories we’ve held dear for our entire lives, stories that we think define us – and when a new story comes along – a story that challenges our old ways of thinking and being, it threatens us. Educators call this cognitive dissonance – that collision of what we thought was true in conflict with new evidence that demands we re-examine it. As uncomfortable as that is – that place where our old narrative intersects with a new one – that’s where learning happens. And it’s real learning, learning that matters, learning that sticks.
Stories help us do that.
Stories change our lives.
I write. Because I believe in the power of stories.
Rebecca Bruff is the author of award-winning Trouble the Water, inspired by the true story of Beaufort’s own Robert Smalls. Bruff is a graduate of Texas A&M University, and SMU, where she earned her Masters and Doctorate degrees in Theology.
An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Bruff served in Dallas area congregations, focusing on spiritual formation and cross-cultural partnerships. She says she’s better at getting people out of the church than in it. And she’s witnessed and heard remarkable stories because the world is full of them.
After writing hundreds of sermons, lessons, wedding homilies, and funeral eulogies, Rebecca heard the story of Robert Smalls on her first brief visit to South Carolina in 2013. She was so captivated that in 2017 she left her job and, with her late husband Tom, moved across the country to research and write this extraordinary man’s story.
Trouble the Water has received First Place/ Gold awards for Debut Novel and Adult Fiction, and a Bronze award for Historical Fiction from The Feathered Quill Awards, and First Place/Gold in Fiction from American Bookfest, and most recently the 2021 International Grand Prize for Best Book from Chanticleer Reviews.
Rebecca – with her exuberant golden retriever Bentley – is at home now in Beaufort, SC.
Rebecca believes deeply in the power of stories to inspire curiosity, cultivate empathy, and catalyze change. Every story matters.