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Trouble the Water
Stars of Wonder
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Rebecca Bruff

“Before this decisive night, I’d not fully appreciated the subtle line between inspiration and insanity. But now, with all our lives at risk, I found myself navigating that most perilous edge…”

Inspired by the extraordinary true story of Robert Smalls’ life journey—from enslavement to Civil War hero to US Congressman—TROUBLE THE WATER is a narrative of many threads, beautifully woven by Rebecca Dwight Bruff as she navigates the rich tributaries of suffering, hope, courage, and redemption that define Smalls’ life. A witness to both privilege and suffering while being raised alongside his owner’s daughter and a dangerous son of a firebrand secessionist, Smalls, at the age of twelve, is sent to work in Charleston, where he loads ships and learns to pilot a cotton steamer. When the Civil War erupts and the cotton steamer on which he is enslaved becomes a confederate warship, Robert seizes the opportunity to pursue freedom for himself and the people he loves.    

From his illiterate childhood to his thrilling escape to freedom, from his work to make South Carolina the first state to guarantee public education to his final days on the porch of his family home—TROUBLE THE WATER explores race, rights, religion, class, economics, family, and freedom in a way that illuminates, exposes and educates—through the power and beauty of story.


Rebecca Dwight Bruff earned her bachelor’s degree in education (Texas A&M) and Master and Doctorate degrees in theology (Southern Methodist University). An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving congregations in Dallas, Dr. Bruff focused on spiritual formation and cross-cultural partnerships.


During a brief visit to the Lowcountry in 2013 while on a carriage ride, Rebecca first became aware of the extraordinary life-story of Robert Smalls. His story ignited her curiosity...curiosity became exploration...exploration became discovery. She was so captivated and inspired that she and her late husband Tom permanently relocated to Beaufort, SC in 2017 to research Smalls’ life and legacy. Discovering that “some stories are amplified while others are silenced," Rebecca Dwight Bruff, realizing the power of storytelling, has drawn us into this most significant time in American history with an awareness of contemporary relevance through her award-winning historical fiction novel, TROUBLE THE WATER. 


FEATHERED QUILL AWARDS: First Place/Gold Awards for Debut Novel and Adult Fiction Bronze Award for Historical Fiction

AMERICAN BOOKFEST: First Place/Gold Award in Fiction

FIREBIRD BOOK AWARDS: Winner, Southern Fiction Winner, Social/Political Change Winner, Young Adult Fiction

2020 CIBA INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS: “Overall Best Book Award”

TROUBLE THE WATER has now been beautifully adapted for the stage by THEATRICUM BOTANICUM’s Ellen Geer, debuting in July with performances until October 2nd in LA. Longtime Theatricum member Gerald C. Rivers (who voiced the audio version of Bruff’s novel) masterfully directs the large cast and ensemble and narrates as the older Robert Smalls, which puts the play into context.

For phenomenal reviews:


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