Josephine Humphreys

2001 SeasonJosephine Humphreys

She won the 1985 Hemingway Foundation Award for a first work of fiction and her book, Rich in Love was turned into a motion picture. Her book, Nowhere Else on Earth, tells the story of Rhoda Strong, a North Carolinian coming of age as a Lumbee Indian during the Civil War.



Dreams of Sleep

Fireman's Fair

Nowhere Else on Earth

Rich in Love





November 3, 1890

from my hidden town on the Lumbee River,

Robeson County, North Carolina


What happened here twenty-five years ago could not have happened in any other place or age. Maybe it will be told in full someday, and all the secrets known.


But my guess is nobody will ever roll back the curtain to show a true picture of us and our land in those times, just as a soldier can never describe a whole battle - only his little piece of it, the tree and fence and field he saw, his own wounds and the wounds he gave. He does his best, telling what he knew and what he supposed and what he heard later from the others, but always wanting to tell more, always wishing a view would clear and the whole scene - not just its deaths but its explanation and design - would suddenly lie open before his eyes on the green field, revealed in a dazzling afternoon light.


One time a newspaper said, "The Queen of Scuffletown cannot read, or even write her own notorious name." Which may show something about newspapermen, how easy they are to fool, because of course I read the remark. But it was no slander, it was what I'd led them to believe. In those days I found it an advantage to hide many things. The first time I had to sign a court paper I was inspired to put an X instead of my signature.


Now, though, in my old age (well, forty-one isn't ancient but I can tell you it is well past all the excitement) I am ready to drop my disguises. Mine is only a single and limited testimony, one woman's version - as much of the truth as I know or can guess, but not guaranteed pure, not unswayed by certain passions. Love, for one. I have loved this place as much as I've loved any human soul.


Since it is somewhat changed today, I'm describing our geography from memory. The county has more farms and towns now, more ditches, more roads and bridges and railroad tracks. But back then everything not pinewoods or fields was swamps, fifty of them labeled on the map and more whose names were never known to mapmakers. Some were pocosins, shallow egg-shaped basins landlocked and still, scattered northwesterly as if a clutch of stars had been flung aslant in one careless toss from heaven, leaving bays that sometimes filled with rain and sometimes dried in the sun, growing gums and poplars and one tiny bright green plant found nowhere else on earth, the toothed and alluring Venus flytrap.


In the bigger swamps, miles wide and inches deep, a slow current drew toward the river through thickets of briar and cane and bottleneck cypress, each tree rising from a little island of its own making. The roots caught silt from the drifting stream, and slowly built a solid ground where none had been before. Some of the roots came up as knees all around, to steady the tree.


And directly through the middle of the county ran our narrow zigzag Lumbee, choosing any course it wanted, swelling with freshets, washing out bridges, carrying off sheep and pigs and sometimes human beings. Its other name was Drowning Creek. The result was a sodden, hard-to-travel territory of which our little part was always the worst (as they said, but we said the best), the hidden, tangled, waterlogged heart.


Copyright (c) 2000 - 2002 by Josephine Humphries. All rights reserved.