Readers of all ages converged on the Mattapoisett Free Public Library on Tuesday, July 17 to meet historical fiction author Krista Russell. Russell, whose young adult novel Chasing the Nightbird was named a Massachusetts Book Award 2012 Must Read selection, read three excerpts and fielded questions from her captivated audience. Her book tells the nineteenth-century story of Lucky, a 14-year-old Cape Verdean whaleman from New Bedford who becomes involved in the Underground Railroad.
Two young readers were especially excited to meet Russell.
“The author is from Atlanta and that’s where I live,” said Maddy O’Neill.
O’Neill was joined by her 11-year-old friend, Abby DaCosta, also from Atlanta.
“I like books about kids, not about adults,” DaCosta said. “I’m in a book club. We’re reading The Hunger Games.”
A past Tri-Town resident, Russell is well-versed in the history of New Bedford due to her childhood visits to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. She brings that information to her readers.
“I knew about whaling and New Bedford’s whaling history,” she said, “but I didn’t know about New Bedford’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. It seemed that at the time I was growing up, it wasn’t something that was publicized or known.”
Russell’s inspiration for the book came from her knowledge of the challenges of a whaleman’s life and the Cape Verdean ancestry of modern New Bedford.
“I thought it was very interesting there was a strong Cape Verdean population in New Bedford [in the nineteenth century]. They were people of color, but separate from the fugitive slaves,” Russell said.
Russell attributed her novel’s connection between whaling and the Underground Railroad to historical fact: fugitive slaves often found work as New Bedford whalemen, as Frederick Douglass once did.
Chasing the Nightbird was a long project for Russell, taking the better part of 10 years for completion.
“I don’t want to discourage anyone. It was kind of a long process, but it was long because I was learning to write at the time.”
The staff of the Mattapoisett Free Public Library highly recommends Chasing the Nightbird, which is aimed at middle school children.
“I’ve read it and I like it a lot,” Children’s Librarian Linda Burke said. “It’s a very good story. It’s very well-done, and I read it months ago.”
Russell said she has another book due for release next fall, which tells the story of Jim, a fugitive slave who flees to St. Augustine, Fla. from Charleston, S.C. during the early eighteenth century.
Susan Pizzolato, Library Director, promoted a number of upcoming library activities, namely the Annual Book Sale, which will be held on July 19 – 21 from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm on Thursday and Friday and 4:00 pm on Saturday.
“There will be a lot of bargains,” she said. “Rather than the church, come here for a great time.”
If the weather permits, the children’s section will be outside on the library’s lawn.
Pizzolato stressed that the Mattapoisett Free Public Library hosts new programs throughout the summer.
“As additional people come forward with great ideas, we keep saying yes, so you can stay updated on the website,” Pizzolato said. “We have many programs due to an array of talented volunteers.”
By Anne Smith