Saturday, June 15 at 1:00 pm

Karen Shepard, Author of The Celestials

KarenShepard-CelestialsJoin us for a talk, Q& A, and book signing with Karen Shepard, author of the new historical novel, The Celestials. This program is free and open to the public.

About the book: In June of 1870, seventy-five Chinese laborers arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, to work for Calvin Sampson, a shoe manufacturer and one of the biggest industrialists in that busy factory town. Except for the foreman, the Chinese didn’t speak English. They didn’t know they were strikebreakers. The eldest of them was twenty-two.

Despite threats from the fired union workers, there were no major incidents of violence. Within days, the Chinese were at work. Within weeks, they were studying with local volunteers. The fired workers opened a cooperative factory, but The Knights of St. Crispin, the biggest union in the country, was broken. North Adams wouldn’t have another union strike—in any industry—for a decade.

The Celestials follows several characters but is centrally focused on the relationships between Sampson and his wife, Julia, who has had several miscarriages over the course of their childless marriage; Sampson and his new workers, whom he comes to look upon as “sons”; and the townspeople and the Celestials, who are regarded as both threatening and exotic. When Julia gives birth to a clearly mixed-race baby, the infant becomes a lightning rod for the novel’s questions concerning identity, alienation, and exile.

The Celestials is a historical novel of immigration, multiculturalism, labor, community and exclusion, alienation and reinvention, and our country’s peculiar history and relationship with all those things. It’s about our shared sense that we’re all aliens of some kind—at home in no place. The book asks us to think about how we make ourselves into the people we want to be, and what gets sacrificed along the way.

About the author: KarenShepardKaren Shepard is a Chinese-American born and raised in New York City. She is the author of three novels, An Empire of Women, The Bad Boy’s Wife, Don’t I Know You?, and the forthcoming The Celestials. Her short fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, and Ploughshares, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in More, Self, USA Today, and the Boston Globe, among others. She teaches writing and literature at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, where she lives with her husband, novelist Jim Shepard, and their three children.

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