Newbery Award winner visits Geneseo, discusses novel on local Sudanese “lost boy”

On Thursday Nov. 17, Newbery award-winning children's author Linda Sue Park spoke at the Central Presbyterian Church on Center Street. The event was organized by the Wadsworth Library and attendees of all ages filled the room.

Park discussed her newest novel A Long Walk to Water, which is based on the true story of Salva, one of the Sudanese "lost boys" who now lives in the Rochester area.

Park met Salva in 2004 through her husband, a journalist who was writing about Salva's current work with the organization Water For Sudan.

"The more I heard about his life, the more amazed I became," Park said. "I could not believe all the things that had happened to him when he was a child. I kept telling people about him … then I started telling people I didn't know … and finally it occurred to me that … if I wrote his story as a book, I could tell a bunch of people at once."

Park explained the steps she took in researching Salva's past and the lost boys of Sudan, children who fled from their villages to avoid the civil war. The novel follows Salva's walk across the African continent to a refugee camp and finally his relocation to the United States.

Although Salva was Park's primary source of information, she considers the book a novel due to fictional embellishments she added. Park read an excerpt from the novel, and an excerpt from Salva's own writing, to exemplify her meaning.

The novel also includes the story of Nya, an entirely fictional girl who "represents many young people who live in Sudan today." Nya's story explores the everyday life of the Sudanese people. With her village two hours from the nearest water source, Nya takes two trips per day to fetch water, for a total of eight hours of walking each day. Park explained that with so much time dedicated to walking, very few girls have the opportunity for education.

Nya's account provides witness to Salva's return to Sudan and his work with Water For Sudan, which aims to end the long walk to water by installing fresh water wells in the villages. Nya watches as the crew arrives to begin construction and the villagers make preparations, clearing land and breaking rocks for gravel.  

"Salva is currently in Sudan right now," Park said. "He used to spend about half the year there during the dry season digging wells, and half the year here raising money. But Water For Sudan is now able to take over a lot of the fundraising duties and he's spending more and more time in Sudan. It's a tremendous operation."

Children and adults asked Park questions both about Sudan and her writing. Although Park was reluctant to give away the novel, she went into great detail about the organization, advocating for donations. According to her, it costs about $15,000 and two weeks to install a well. So far 104 freshwater wells have been built.

 "I thought that she was very inspiring; it made me want to learn more," Barb Christianson said. "I was a first grade teacher so I've always liked children's literature."