Read Online: Knoxvillians React to the Novel “A Lesson Before Dying”
January 31, 2018

The University of Tennessee Libraries has published a collection of essays by participants in Knoxville’s Big Read of A Lesson Before Dying.

UT Libraries response to A Lesson Before DyingIn 2016, a community reading program brought Knoxvillians together to read and discuss A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines’s novel about a black man who is sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. The Knox County Public Library organized the Big Read with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Community partners hosted a series of programs that inspired community-wide discussion of the book’s themes of racism, injustice, hope, and redemption. Events included book discussions, lectures, a Community Leaders Forum, a screening of Say It Loud! (historic footage of Knoxville during the civil rights era) at the John C. Hodges Library on the UT campus, and performances of Romulus Linney’s dramatic adaptation of A Lesson Before Dying at UT’s Carousel Theatre.

As a community partner in the Big Read, the UT Libraries chose to memorialize some of the themes that emerged in book discussions and other programs that brought together the university campus and the wider community. The library’s call for papers elicited a range of responses from students, university faculty, and community leaders. The resulting essays are gathered in Toward Justice: Reflections on A Lesson Before Dying. The book is illustrated with drawings created by art students from the Austin-East Magnet High School.

Some essays in Toward Justice interpret Gaines’s story through the lens of the essayist’s profession; some relate the essayist’s earliest consciousness of racism. All are eloquent and thought-provoking.

Toward Justice was published by Newfound Press, the UT Libraries’ digital imprint, and is freely available online at

The UT Libraries will publish another book to commemorate the 2017 Big Read of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. We invite contributions of any length and in any genre appropriate for publication, from essays to poetry to artworks. Thoughtful works of humor will not be disqualified and are encouraged.

Please see our call for responses for more information.