Greenfield native to debut novel ‘Swift River,’ appear on Today Show

Essie Chambers, from Greenfield, poses next to her debut book “Swift River” at the Strand Book Store in New York City.

Essie Chambers, from Greenfield, poses next to her debut book “Swift River” at the Strand Book Store in New York City.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Brianna Scharfenberg




Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2024 4:45 PM

Modified: 06-12-2024 12:48 PM

GREENFIELD — Author and television producer Essie Chambers, from Greenfield, will appear on the Today Show later this month to discuss her debut novel “Swift River,” which Today Show personality Jenna Bush Hager selected as her June 2024 “Read With Jenna” pick.

Chambers will attend a reading, book signing and question-and-answer session at the Greenfield Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a homecoming that she said carries a lot of personal meaning for her.

“I fell in love with books at that library — I used to go to all of those storytime programs, and between the library and World Eye [Bookshop], that was heaven for me,” Chambers recounted. “It was where I’d go to just disappear into another world. To be going back to the library, for me, is just so special.”

Born in Brattleboro, Vermont, Chambers moved to Greenfield at the age of 2. She started her creative writing career as a film producer, working senior creative executive positions at ViacomCBS (Paramount). She later worked as a producer on the documentary “Descendant,” which was released by Higher Ground and Netflix in 2022, and produced the PBS documentary “The New Public.”

Along with the support of her parents, Chambers credits her English teacher at Greenfield High School, the late Richard Russo, with encouraging and inspiring her to pursue a career in creative writing.

“The first thing I ever wanted was to write books, from the time I was very, very young. ... He (Russo) was really the first person to tell me that I had a great voice in my writing, so it really reinforced this thing that I already wanted so badly,” Chambers said. “For whatever reason, I didn’t have the confidence to just start writing books, so I worked in journalism for a little while, and then I sort of got a dream job in television. I think that was just creative enough that it was OK that I wasn’t pursuing my own creative dream; I was helping people tell their stories, which was very satisfying for a very long time.”

After leaving her executive roles, Chambers went back to school to pursue a master’s degree from Columbia University, an experience that she said gave her the support and structure she needed to focus on developing her craft and writing a story that had been in her mind for some time.

“The need and the desire to do this, and the fear that it would be a regret just got louder and louder,” she said.

“Swift River” was named after the story’s setting — a fictitious New England town where the protagonist, 16-year-old Diamond Newbury, the town’s only Black resident, lives with her mother. The story follows Diamond’s journey through her family’s roots, traumas and history when Diamond receives a letter from a relative she’s never met.

Although the book is a work of fiction, and the characters and plot lines are invented, Chambers said she pulled some of Diamond’s emotions from her own experiences growing up as a person of color living in a predominantly white neighborhood.

“People seem to be responding to Diamond. ... I think people have empathy for her. She’s carrying a lot of pain in this story and I worked really hard to have her [character be] comedic and a little weird and quirky so that there’s this balance between light and dark in this one character,” Chambers said. “One person just said that they felt like she was inside Diamond’s skin as they were reading the book, and I think she’s struggling with things that are universal — identity and wanting to belong. It’s an outsider story at the end of the day.”

“Swift River” was released on June 4.

“This is my second act,” Chambers said, “and it’s such gift to be a beginner again, with so much to learn and so many more stories to tell.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at or 413-930-4429.