Essie Chambers (Courtesy photo)

Essie Chambers grew up in a house filled with books and parents who read to her and her siblings daily.

She knew she wanted to tell stories since she was about seven years old.  Her goal was to be a writer and a singer.

Chambers was most in awe of the family stories she heard her father and his brothers tell about their childhood and time spent as organizers in the Civil Rights Movement.

Chambers, who has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia University, has received fellowships from Baldwin for the Arts, Macdowell, and Vermont Studio Center.

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Before making her authorial debut with “Swift River,” she was an Oscar short-listed producer and former TV and film executive. She was a producer on the documentary “Descendant” released by the Obamas’ Higher Ground production company and Netflix in 2022.

“Swift River” focuses on a biracial teen named Diamond who is growing up in a predominantly White town in New England during the 1980s. “Swift River” is described by Chambers’ publishers, Simon & Schuster, as a story “about a family struggling with generational trauma and a town’s hidden history; it is the story of a funny, weird, unforgettable girl trying to take a first step toward a life that will ultimately lead her away from the only home she’s ever known.”

(Courtesy photo)

It took Chambers nearly nine years to write, but she said she had been thinking about it for much longer. Her creative life in TV and film made it easy for her to make excuses on why she couldn’t make the time to pursue her dream as a novelist. Chambers was mainly behind the scenes, supporting other artists’ visions, and said being out in front with her own is “wild, exhilarating and terrifying.”

“I grew up in a small, predominately White town, so I had that experience to draw from. I always knew I wanted to tell a story about being ‘the only one.’ But the ‘Swift River’ characters and the story are purely fictional,” Chambers said.

“Diamond came into focus slowly, as I figured out what the story needed. I think there were a few different short stories with different versions of Diamond. But I really got her voice once I understood the role her sense of humor would play in the way she saw the world.”

Chambers credits her ability to shape a story, how it travels and builds and pauses for laughter to her father and her uncles. She said that her parents introduced her to everything from fairy tales to James Baldwin. Her father always wanted to be a writer and both he and her mother were big readers, so it was inevitable that she’d one day write a book of her own, loosely inspired by her own upbringing as a biracial (Black identifying) girl in New England.

 “I did a ton of research about mill towns and the life of mill workers. As I was trying to build a family history and background for Diamond’s father, I discovered a book that really cracked my novel open.

“It is called ‘Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.’ I learned a ton about the history of my own hometown in the process. It was all incredibly eye-opening and cathartic,” Chambers said.

This novel has already received rave reviews from New York Times Best Selling authors Ann Napolitano and Curtis Sittenfeld and has been recommended for summer reading by Time, Real Simple, Book Page and the Los Angeles Times.

Chambers hasn’t intended to write a continuation of “Swift River” but she said “you never know. She also said it’s fun to think about “Swift River” as a film and she’d love to see that happen one day.

“I hope that readers think about their own families, their roots; about what home means to them — the home of their childhood, the home of now, the one they take everywhere they go,” Chambers said.

Swift River is on sale now wherever books are sold and Chambers will be at Book Soup for an event on June 28, at 7 p.m.