Novelist Leah Stewart gives students access at sneak peek reading, Q&A session

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Novelist Leah Stewart gave students at the University of Tennessee the chance to hear a preview from her unreleased sixth novel Monday night.

A sign in John C. Hodges Library advertises Leah Stewarts visit on Monday September 19, 2016. The event included a reading and question and answer session for students and the public.

At the second Writers at the Library event of the fall 2016 semester, Stewart shared some of her fifth novel, “The New Neighbor,” before giving the audience a taste of her forthcoming, “What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw.”

She said she chose to include “The New Neighbor” last minute because the setting felt so appropriate.

“I wasn’t going to read from this one, but then I thought I had to because it takes place in Tennessee,” Stewart said.

Leah Stewart reads aloud from two of her most recent novels on Monday September 19, 2016. She revealed that she chose to read from her fifth book, “The New Neighbor,” because it takes place in Tennessee.

Stewart’s passage from “What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw” took the audience into the mind of Outlaw, a young television actor, as he navigates a conversation with a reporter.

Outlaw’s thoughts reveal that the character’s honesty had left him embarrassed by media in the past, and sparked questions about the nature of public access to celebrities during the question and answer session following the reading.

“I thought about that while writing,” Stewart said. “Even as a writer now people have about five ways to contact me when I used to maybe just get an email or a letter. It’s a hard psychological terrain.”

Erin Smith, the event organizer and Jack E. Reese Writer in Residence at UT’s Hodges Library, said that the Writers in the Library events are meant to give the public a different kind of access to famous authors.

University of Tennessee Students wait prior to Stewart’s lecture on Monday September 19, 2016. More than 20 students and members of the public attended the free event.

“We bring in about 15 speakers a year… to give people University wide the chance to see very well known novelist, poets, essayists and the lot, and it’s an opportunity to continue to build literary culture and community here in Knoxville,” Smith said.

More than 20 students, professors and members of the public attended Monday’s event, which introduced at least one student to a new writer.

“I hadn’t read her stuff,” English major Ashley Burkhart said. “I definitely will. The narrative voice was beautiful. The voice was very strong, characters were very interesting, and I thought that the way that she described how they felt about things was very accurate.”

The next Writers in the Library will feature writers Tawnysha Green and Kristi Maxwell on Oct. 3.

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