Author shares writing process in book about refugee who survived war in Sudan

Posted 13 October 2022 at 1:39 pm

Provided photos: Keely Hutton discusses her book with two students Chyanni and Shyanna Williams.

MEDINA – Medina Junior-Senior High School recently played host to Keely Hutton, a children’s book author and former English teacher. She has written three books: Soldier Boy, Secret Soldiers and Don’t Look Back.

School librarian Jennifer O’Toole invited middle school and high schools students to hear Mrs. Hutton talk about her new book, Don’t Look Back, and to discuss her writing process.

Don’t Look Back was written with Achut Deng and is Deng’s real-life story about surviving war, living in a refugee camp from the age of 6 to 16 and her journey from South Sudan to America.

Hutton and Deng spent many hours every week for 18 months talking over the phone for the memoir. Hutton lives in the Rochester area and Deng lives in South Dakota where she works in human resources at a meat-packing plant. The final product is a powerful story about the ugliness and beauty of humanity and the message about not giving up no matter what the obstacles.

Deng’s story was first mentioned in a 2020 New York Times article. Her emotional story about her flight from the Sudan, immigrating to the US as part of the Lost Boys program and being the single mom of three boys caught the public’s attention. Macmillan Publishers optioned her story and had Deng interview potential authors to work with. She chose Hutton to collaborate with.

Author shares writing process in book about refugee who survived war in Sudan.

Hutton told students that she had to research the Sudan and the period of time that her subject lived there. She also filled several notebooks from her Zoom calls and interviews with Deng. It was then she was able to get to the heart of the story and began writing.

Hutton told students that all her books are based on the real lives of her subjects. She said that even though she did not have the same experiences as they did, she does experience similar emotions which helps her write from their point of view.

“Looking for shared, universal emotions helps me to build an emotional bridge for me and my readers,” she told Medina students. “If you want to write think back to your own experiences and connect those emotions to your subject.”

O’Toole also invited Julie Berry, owner of the Author’s Note Bookstore in Medina. Berry helped to facilitate Hutton’s visit to the high school. She hosted a book signing for Don’t Look Back.