Chop Suey Books publishes RVA author’s book, ‘The House of Life’, detailing couple’s volunteer work in Haiti

by | Oct 14, 2016 | COMMUNITY NEWS

Published by the local bookstore Chop Suey Books and written by Richmond author Shelley Briggs Callahan, “The House of Life” has just been released today with an event to follow this weekend.

Published by the local bookstore Chop Suey Books and written by Richmond author Shelley Briggs Callahan, “The House of Life” has just been released today with an event to follow this weekend.

The book describes Dick and Barb Hammond’s 30 years of volunteer work in Haiti, which began in their late forties. The couple founded the Friends of the Children of Haiti (FOTCOH) and focused on providing medical care to the people of Haiti. Ultimately, the couple, through FOTCOH, established a permanent clinic in Haiti and worked there almost year-round with volunteer medical staff.

Callahan began focusing on the book after a 2011 mission trip to Haiti, where she volunteered as an assistant to the medical staff at the FOTCOH clinic. There, she met Dick and Barb Hammond and was struck by their vigor and drive. The elderly couple stays in the FOTCOH Clinic for about half of every year, working alongside every volunteer team which comes to the clinic.

After a couple of trips working alongside the Hammonds, Callahan began to feel quite close to them and felt driven to tell their story. There is a genuine admiration for the couple that runs through the book.

“Most people when they get to be in their early sixties and they’ve raised a family, ended their careers, they retire leisurely,” said Callahan. The Hammonds, though, used their retirement as an opportunity to renew their dedication to their volunteer work in Haiti. “That, from the start, just blew my mind.”

“The House of Life” also touches on some of the history of Haiti, from its origins to its modern existence. Callahan used both textual research and interviews with Haitian citizens and Haitian staff at the clinic to gather additional information. She wanted to emphasize how kind and welcoming the Haitian people are, and, ultimately, how safe the country is.

“Through interviews, I was really able to say these things very confidently,” said Callahan.

Writing the book required a great deal of time and attention, and since Callahan works a full-time job, her weekends became completely devoted to interviews, research, and writing. “Writing this book was absolutely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

Still, she found herself absorbed by the work. “Now that I’ve learned a lot as far as how much patience it requires, and persistence, and just going back to it over, and over… I’m excited to see what I could possibly do next.”

The publishing relationship with Chop Suey Books came about organically. Callahan has lived in Richmond since 2001, and after attending both undergraduate and graduate school at VCU, ran non-profit organization Books on Wheels with Ward Tefft, the owner of Chop Suey Books and its publishing branch, Chop Suey Books Books.

Chop Suey has published a few other books, such as Noah Scalin’s “Skull a Day” and the short story compilation “River City Secrets,” but Callahan’s “The House of Life” is the company’s first non-fiction publication.

Chop Suey Books Books’s list of published titles is growing, but Tefft doesn’t anticipate bringing publication to anything beyond a “part-time” endeavor. The storefront remains the primary business endeavor and Tefft plans to work with local creators that he has a personal connection to.

“We’re working with people that we know and that we have a good, long working relationship with,” he said.

Because Tefft worked with Callahan for 10 years at Books on Wheels, he had a pretty good idea of how well she worked. Callahan herself sought out and worked with an editor and cover artist. Tefft just made sure that she had the means and the platform to put it out there.

Now, with the book complete and released, Tefft can see that his trust was well placed.

“The book really encapsulates the whole history of the Friends of the Children of Haiti and of Haiti itself,” said Tefft. “It’s not a history of Haiti itself, but it puts it all in a historical perspective.”

“The House of Life” will be available at Chop Suey Books on Cary Street this Friday, October 14th. The launch event will follow on October 16th at Tiny Space on East Marshall Street. You can also pre-order the book from Callahan’s website for $16 here.

Amy David

Amy David

Amy David was the Web Editor for from May 2015 until September 2018. She covered craft beer, food, music, art and more. She's been a journalist since 2010 and attended Radford University. She enjoys dogs, beer, tacos, and Bob's Burgers references.

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