Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier (b. 1962) is a British/American writer. Though considered a historical novelist, she explores issues with which people still struggle, like racism and sexism. Her books include The Virgin Blue, Falling Angels, Remarkable Creatures and A Single Thread.  Her best-selling work is The Girl with the Pearl Earring. She is a Trustee of the British Library Board and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Chevalier has worshiped with Friends for over 40 years. As a child, for seven summers, she attended Camp Catoctin, a Baltimore Yearly Meeting camp. Years later, on a New York City street, overwhelmed by its noise, she remembered the 15 minutes of silent worship in which the campers participated every morning. It led her back to Friends Meeting. Now a British citizen, she continues to worship at Hampstead Meeting in London. She has also appeared in a film about her visit to Pendle Hill, highlighting a new Quaker Walk there.

The Last Runaway is Chevalier’s novel about Honor Bright, an English Friend who emigrates to Ohio in 1850. Bright slowly becomes involved in the Underground Railroad. Silence (and quilts) are repeated motifs in the book. Accounts of the racist customs which Friends practiced, like the infamous Negro Pews, on which Friends of Color were forced to sit, separate from White Friends, are also included.

Tracy Chevalier is a fine writer. I loved The Last Runaway. Bright’s experience of Meeting for Worship is something I’ve rarely seen described in fiction. As well, I found the depiction of the inner life of Bright as a woman remarkable and, at times, very moving.

A quote about writing The Last Runaway and about Meeting for Worship:

“I found, too, that it is not easy to describe silence. When I sit in Meeting, I am constantly chasing away thoughts, which are made up of words. Ideally, when I manage to hold thoughts at bay, I enter into a state that I cannot describe. This is true as well when writing about silence.

“The best I can hope is that my imprecise attempt to describe silence will pique readers’ curiosity into seeking it out for themselves. It is worth quieting the mind for.”

Gary Sandman

January 2023

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