- Not Far From the Zinnias (2001)
By Mallory Webb (SHS)
Mississippi author Rachel Darby Evans was born on August 31, 1931, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Mississippi. She was the second of three girls belonging to Bud and Jesse Wood Darby. At three months old, Evans and her family moved into the city of Philadelphia, where she would continue to live until this day.
Evans attended Philadelphia Public Schools, where she developed a keen interest for literature. As a youngster, Evans wrote countless plays, stories, poems, and essays. She and her sisters would turn their back porch into an stage, with quilts for curtains and their mother’s clothes for costumes. “From the time I was old enough to know what literature was, I wanted to write. Writing has always been a driving force in my life,” says Rachel Darby Evans. Evans graduated from Philadelphia High School in 1949. She continued her education at MSCW, now Mississippi University for Women, where she began majoring in journalism. Evans soon realized that she did not like to write by conventional standards and quickly changed her major to English.
Evans graduated with an English degree in 1952 and hurried home to marry Harold Evans. They were married on July 19, 1952. She went to work as a secretary for a lumber company in Philadelphia. She held this job until she had her first son, Mike. Mike was born on July, 2, 1956. The Evans’ second son, Harold Dan, was born shortly after. Sadly, Harold Jr. only lived to be ten days old. The cause for his death was never determined, but there were suspected causes such as the flu or intestinal problems. “Medicine was not very advanced in those days, so we never really found out the actual cause of his death,” said Evans. She then went to work as a secretary for the United Methodist Church in Philadelphia and held the position until she had her third child. Their son, Scott, was born on December 19, 1961. In the following years, Evans held jobs as a secretary for the U.S. Motors plant in Philadelphia, a writer for the Neshoba Democrat, and the owner of Rachel Evans Reality, Inc,. for fifteen years.
Rachel Darby Evans published her first book, Not Far From the Zinnias, in June of 2001. This book has received attention all over the Southeast and has received reviews from all over the country. Today, Evans continues to write a column for the Neshoba Democrat entitled “Just Among Friends.” She also works for a local gift shop when she is not traveling to promote her book. Her son, Mike, lives in Starkville, Mississippi with his wife, Mitzie, and two boys, Ben and Dan. Scott lives outside of Memphis, Tennessee with his wife, Blaire, and son, Charlie.
A Review of Not Far From the Zinnias
by Mallory Web (SHS)
Not Far From the Zinnias is a vivid, heartwarming tale of a little orphaned girl growing up in the South during a less complicated era. Written from the heart, Not Far From the Zinnias brings back memories of what most Southerners, rich and poor, felt growing up. The lack of material possessions is made up for by an insurmountable sense of family love and companionship. Loosely based on the life of Evans’ friend, Betty Seward, the story mixes timeless historical events with a heart wrenching tale of a love child who grows to understand and accept her parents’ past.
The story of Alexis Clare Stone is told simply. She is a young girl who is orphaned at an early age during the Depression. Taken in by her aunt and uncle, Lexi moves with her relatives as they travel from farm to farm because her uncle is a sharecropper who enjoys a good laugh more than working. Lacking in material things, the small family spends their time just getting by. Even though circumstances are not to her advantage and she is followed by a complicated past, Lexie Stone is constantly thankful to her God for the love that surrounds her.
Evans’ use of simple terms allows the reader to easily and clearly understand the story line and emotions put into the book. The odes that precede certain events in the story add a personalized touch that allows the reader to develop a sense of closeness to the character of Lexi.
Not Far From the Zinnias is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The book allows the reader to be taken back to a time when material things did not take precedence over family. Being from the South, I can relate to the close sense of family that is the center point of this book. The tale of Lexi’s life not only intrigued me, but reminded me to be thankful for all the things that I have been blessed with throughout my life. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the love of family and the simple pleasures of an innocent childhood.
by Mallory Web (SHS)
When did you first want to write?
I have wanted to write all of my life. From the time I learned to read and write, creating stories was always my greatest joy. I wrote for backyard plays, for school, for story contests and for essay awards. Everyone I knew was aware of how much I loved writing.
What writers, if any, were influential to the writing of Not Far From the Zinnias?
None, really. I have always had writers that I admire, such as Eudora Welty and Danielle Steele. However, my style was produced simply because I write from my heart. I’ve never enjoyed writing by the rules of standard literature. This way, I am able to put more emotion into my words.
What Mississippi writers do you particularly enjoy?
I am a person that really enjoys people’s success stories. Mississippi has so many success stories when it comes to the arts. Of course, there are those such as Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker, and William Faulkner. I also enjoy others such as Willie Morris and John Grisham. All of these people have achieved so much, and each of them have their own wonderful success story.
What inspired you to write Not Far From the Zinnias?
Like I said, I have always wanted to write. My biggest dream was always to one day publish a book. I talked about it, but you know how those things go. Finally, one day while riding through the country, my dear friend Betty Seward told me I could write about her life and make it into my own story. Betty was my main inspiration. My son, Mike, was also someone who greatly encouraged me to fulfill my dream.
What parts of this book were based on real people or events?
All of it was loosely based on Betty’s life. Now, which parts are fiction and which parts are real is something that even I have a hard time figuring out sometimes.
Were you happy with the finished product?
Oh, yes. This book is my pride and joy. I call it my ‘Zinnia Dream.’ To have created something that is worthy of what I like to call ‘coffee table status’ is so satisfying. To go into friend’s and relative’s homes and see my book on coffee tables and in book cases is beyond my dreams. I’m just tickled to death.
Do you believe that writing this book has bettered you as a person?
Most definitely. It has brought a new meaning to my life and is a dream come true. I don’t think that any senior citizen has had more fun than me.
Will you write and publish again?
We have an outline to continue Not Far From the Zinnias, but finding time is very hard. If so, it will be a continuation called Beyond the Zinnias. What can I say? It’s another dream.
If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
I would definitely print more copies. I learned the hard way that it is possible to sell out your first day. You simply can’t be restricted by money when it comes to these things.
- Evans, Rachel Darby. Not Far From the Zinnias. Philadelphia: Seward and Seward, 2001.
- Evans, Rachel Darby. Personal interview. 5 Dec. 2002.