Table Scraps and Other Essays is for all intents and purposes memoir writing. At the heart of the twenty-two true stories is an African American female who, as a child, along with her siblings, must learn the value of hard work as hired hands. James's young spirit is often at odds with her growing family, especially with a father figure who ignores his duties as husband and provider. She has a strong, loving mother who insists on keeping the family together. James learns to trust and depend on the "guardians" of her small Louisiana community--teachers who are eventually forced to move away from the area when the local schools are integrated.
Many years later, James returns home figuratively, and literally on occasion, from the apartment where she lives in New Orleans, and reconnects with a father who seeks forgiveness for his earlier betrayal. He spends each day attempting to make up for the ill treatment of his wife and children. In these essays, James shares her love of nature, both as a means of escape from her troubled family and as inspiration for her writing.