Reading Recap: Knoxville, Tennessee

Audience: About 500.
Anxiety index: 3 (out of 10).
Surprise guest(s): A woman who patiently waited in line at the signing and then told me: “I’m very proud of you, but I’m also very angry with you. Why did you have to make the only covered girl in your book end up as a prostitute?”
No. of Moroccans who said hello: 0. (Where are you?)

Since the publication of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, I’ve had many occasions to engage in conversations with readers: I’ve given three dozen readings, in more than fifteen cities, on two continents. One of the most touching, though, was this past week, when I spoke at the University of Tennessee for the Life of the Mind program. Hope was assigned to the entire freshman class, and it was an exhilarating and humbling experience to hear so many young people discuss my book. I enjoyed reading some of the papers they had written, watching as they agreed or disagreed on particular interpretations, and of course talking to various groups of students at different venues. The largest of these was the Cox Auditorium, which holds several hundred seats–it was my biggest reading yet–but I also liked smaller sit-downs with honors students or with creative writing majors. Oh, and everything you’ve heard about southern hospitality is true.