Community leaders are coming together at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 23 at Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty Street, to discuss modern day realities reflected in “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines. The public is invited to join the conversation, which is part of The Big Read, a community–wide book discussion program presented by Knox County Public Library, Clarence Brown Theatre, Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, and Friends of the Library.

Set in 1948 in a small plantation community in Southern Louisiana, the story centers on an uneducated young black man named Jefferson who is accused of murdering a white storekeeper, and Grant Wiggins, a college-educated native son of Louisiana, who teaches at a plantation school. These two men teach each other the lessons they need to face their very different futures with dignity and strength.

The panel of community leaders, moderated by Jackie Clay, Program Manager of the City of Knoxville’s Save our Sons initiative, will explore the book’s themes of social justice, racial inequality, human ignity and personal redemption as they relate to East Tennessee’s present-day community.

Panel experts include:

  • Nate Allen,  Deputy Chief of Police, Knoxville Police Department
  • Daryl Arnold, Pastor, Overcoming Believers Church
  • Andre Canty, Development & Communications Team , Highlander Center
  • Ralph Hutchinson, Commissioner, MLK Commemorative Commission
  • Reggie Jenkins, Executive Director, UUNIK Academy
  • Kwabena Miller, Former gang member, Community Activist and Outreach Minister
  • Avice Reid, Senior Director of Community Relations, City of Knoxville
  • Mark Stephens, Public Defender, KCPD Community Law Office

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. It aims to encourage reading for pleasure and enrichment by providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their community. In Knox County, more than 2 dozen programs and events are planned including book discussions, screenings, concerts, and lectures. Clarence Brown Theatre is performing the stage adaptation by Romulus Linney at the Carousel Theatre from February 24-March 13.


All Big Read events are listed on