Exciting Times for Local Fiction Author Cristina Kessler

While veteran author Cristina Kessler finishes work on her tenth book, a number of other exciting opportunities are popping up for the St. John resident.

First on her busy agenda, Kessler will give a series of presentations at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. in October.

“I’ve been invited to do five presentations at the museum as part of a three month exhibit they are doing on the Twaregs — a nomadic tribe in the Sub-Saharan area,” said Kessler. “They are going to feature my first book, ‘One Night – A Story From the Desert,’ about a young Twareg boy.”

The Twaregs are nothing new for Kessler, as part of the research for “One Night – A Story From the Desert,” she  spent a week to 10 days with the tribe every two months for a year.

The five-day National Museum of African Art presentation will feature two days of Kessler reading her book to  school groups, one day of the novel being narrated by a professional storyteller and two days of public readings.

“I’m really excited about it — it’s a big honor,” said Kessler.
Before she heads up to the Northeast, however, Kessler will complete her latest work of non-fiction — her third young adult novel — “Trouble in Timbuktu,” about local children preventing American thieves from stealing ancient manuscripts from the African town.

For this effort, Kessler once again drew from personal experience.

“I was there four times,” said the author. “My husband had a lot of projects he was running in Timbuktu and I always went on his trips. It’s just an amazing place — it truly is the end of the world.”

The story revolves around a not very far-fetched plot, Kessler explained.

“I knew there was a real growing trade in the black market selling these ancient manuscripts,” she said. “They are truly exciting and cover every topic, from astronomy to world history. They are 400 to 500 years old and date from when Timbuktu was a real Islamic base of learning.”

“There is a huge effort by UNESCO and other organizations to protect and maintain these manuscripts,” Kessler continued. “They show that Africa had a profound writing culture long before the European cultures.”

One young boy from Timbuktu in particular inspired the author to pick up her pen.

“I was inspired by a kid I met in Timbuktu who had taught himself to speak six different languages so he could work with the toubabas, or foreigners,” said Kessler. “I met him on one of my trips there and when I was there a year later, he came up to me and said ‘hey I remember you, you write books for kids.’”

Although Kessler and her young inspiration have since lost contact, his memory will live on forever in the pages of “Trouble in Timbuktu,” which is due out next year.

The last book Kessler penned, “Our Secret, Siri Aange,” was recently released in paperback by Puffin after two printings in hard cover. Her first novel “The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela” was just released in Amharic, an official language of Ethiopia where the story takes place.

On top of all that, Kessler’s first young adult novel “No Condition is Permanent” might be hitting the stage in New York City.

“I just got a notice saying they are sending me papers to sign to sell the story to be adapted into a play for kids,” said Kessler. “It’s a cross cultural adventure in Sierra Leone and also deals with female circumcision. It looks like the book is going to be turned into a musical and right now it’s being considered for the 2009 schedule for Lincoln Center.”

“There are a lot of exciting things going on,” the author added.

Kessler’s books are available at amazon.com or can be ordered through Book and Bean in The Marketplace.