From well-known figures like abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and former Mayor Andrew “Bossy” Gillis to the stories of lesser-known locals like Gabrielle Minh, who survived the turmoil of Vietnam after American troops departed, a new book provides a snapshot of Newburyport’s people.
Written by Kathleen Downey of Byfield, “Legendary Locals of Newburyport” is part of a nationwide series of books from Arcadia Publishing.
Downey, who lived across from Kelley School in Newburyport from 1992 to 2005, was contacted by Arcadia after the publisher discovered her weekly profiles of local citizens. The column appeared in the now-defunct Newburyport Today online paper and highlighted notable figures around town in feature-length essays.
Downey found that many of the same cold-calling and interview skills came into play when she started working on the book. She even re-interviewed some of her previous subjects for inclusion.
But she had to tailor her writing style to fit the strict standards of the “Legendary Locals” series: Each story is told as a short caption to the subject’s photo. That meant that most profiles had to be condensed to 75-150 words, with only a few dozen reaching as high as 400 words.
“I tend to write way too much anyway, so to write 400 words ... and that was the maximum!” Downey said. “When I started thinking of captions instead of profiles, it was easier for me. I thought, ‘Profiles? That’s not a profile! You need at least 1,000 words!’ ... Because I was not allowed to write that much about anybody, I didn’t have to take great pains.”
Even under word constraints, Downey fought to give each figure the maximum possible coverage. When given the option of including more of her favorites on the list in return for fewer words per person, she thought it wouldn’t “do justice” to the figures she’d spent so much time researching.