Stewart, Leah 1973–

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Stewart, Leah 1973–

PERSONAL: Born August 25, 1973, in Del Rio, TX; daughter of Cameron (an air force colonel) and Susan (a first-grade teacher) Stewart; married Matt O'Keefe (a writer and musician). Education: Vanderbilt University, B.A., 1994; University of Michigan, M.F.A., 1996.

ADDRESSES: Home—Chapel Hill, NC. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, assistant visiting professor, 2001–02. Tennessee Williams Fellow and visiting writer, University of the South; former instructor at Murray State University and Sewanee Young Writers' Conference; former staff member, Sewanee Writers' Conference. Has also worked as a secretary, freelance copyeditor, and magazine editor.

AWARDS, HONORS: Sir Walter Raleigh Award and Mary Ruffin Poole Award, both 2000, both for Body of a Girl.


Body of a Girl (novel), Viking Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Myth of You and Me (novel), Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Kenyon Review. Associate editor, DoubleTake magazine, 1999.

SIDELIGHTS: Leah Stewart completed an M.F.A. program from the University of Michigan after one of her Vanderbilt professors, well-known writer A. Manette Ansay, recognized Stewart's potential as a novelist. This resulted in the creation of Body of a Girl, a novel filled with psychological suspense, mystery, and introspection, which won Stewart acclaim as a writer, and two literary awards. Body of a Girl, which grew out of a short story, centers around Memphis crime reporter Olivia Dale, an ambitious, twenty-five-year-old rookie determined to make a name for herself. As she stares at the bound and brutally tortured corpse of Allison Avery, a young woman her own age, Olivia realizes that, given the right circumstances, she herself could have been the victim. In an effort to solve the murder, Olivia becomes so immersed in the life of Allison Avery that she begins to emulate the victim's destructive behavior. The line between occupational responsibility and obsession becomes blurred, and Olivia realizes that her desperate attempts to uncover the truth about Allison are the physical manifestations of an internal need to unearth the truth about herself.

Hailed as a crime writer, Stewart questioned the logic of labels after her debut was categorized as a mystery. "Because I didn't set out to write a mystery—meaning mystery with a capital M, the genre—I was surprised to find people classifying the book as one," Stewart explained in an interview with Whit Coppedge for the Independent online. "It seems strange to me that it's necessary to apply the label. Why should the subject matter of this book define me as a writer? It's not as though a writer who writes a novel about a circus is then a circus writer."

Spectator reviewer Art Taylor called Body of a Girl a "fairly traditional mystery novel." He judged the first half of the novel to be an "almost by-the-numbers detective story," the second half "a study in obsession." Likewise, Book Reporter reviewer Jennifer Wendel described the novel as a murder mystery on one level, a coming-of-age story on the other. Suzy Hansen, reviewing the novel for Salon, noted: "Stewart evokes the way we measure death by the number of words we afford it in newspapers and the danger of seeking humanity and truth in the sad, tormented lives of strangers." Taylor further maintained: "Where the novel may succeed best is where it diverges from conventional mystery wisdom and where it confounds Olivia's single-mindedness about the story she's pursuing."

Stewart reinforced Taylor's idea by telling Coppedge in her Independent interview: "For me the story has always been about Olivia's reactions and behavior." In an interview with Camille Renshaw of Pif Magazine Stewart also explained: "There's something so big about obsession. Psychology has filtered down the idea that everything we do can be explained, but we are all to some degree mysterious, even to ourselves. The way obsession taps into that mystery fascinates me." The novel is set in Memphis, and she added in the interview her reasons for that choice of location: "It was an instinctive rather than a deliberate choice. I interned at The Commercial Appeal, the Memphis daily, in the summer of 1993. I was nineteen, and it was the first time I had ever lived alone." Stewart learned from another intern about the number of homicides that happened that summer but never saw print, including a rape that took place across the street from where Stewart lived. "So I lived in a constant, low-level state of fear. And since that's what the book is largely about, I naturally set it there."

The Myth of You and Me, Stewart's second novel, concerns the shattered friendship between Cameron Wilson and Sonia Grey, who had been inseparable companions through their early teen years until a mysterious, destructive event occurred after college that drove the two apart. Cameron, at age thirty, is a live-in research assistant and caretaker for Oliver Doucet, a kindly nonagenarian historian. Her employment suits her, but makes her a near-recluse who rarely ventures into the outside world. When Cameron unexpectedly receives a letter from Sonia announcing her engagement, Cameron at first intends to ignore the letter. However, as Oliver begins to fathom the profound events from both women's past, he encourages Cameron to respond and reconcile with her old friend. Cameron continues to procrastinate, but when Oliver dies a few months later, she discovers an odd last request from her late employer: he has left a wrapped package, a wedding gift, for Sonia, and he asks Cameron to deliver it in person. Resigned to the task but feeling angry and indignant, Cameron travels to Boston to find Sonia. Instead, she discovers only a note and a mystery concerning Sonia's whereabouts. As Cameron searches for her old friend, Stewart reveals the complete story about what happened between them, and how they will be able to come together again, after years of separation, bitterness, and anger.

Jane Halsall, writing in School Library Journal, called the novel a "poignant and bittersweet story of love," while Library Journal contributor Andrea Tarr described it as a "well-executed, compelling look at attraction, love, and trust" with "several incandescently beautiful passages" on the trials and tribulations awaiting young women as they enter adulthood. Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley praised the novel, too: "Stewart's writing is sharp and observant, making this tale of the complexities of friendship affecting and genuine." A reviewer on concluded: "The Myth of You and Me is a well-told story that will likely resonate with every woman who has ever had, and lost, a friend."

Stewart once told CA: "My mother says when I was five she would sometimes notice a light on in my room in the middle of the night and go in to find me reading. She finally took the light bulb out of my lamp…. I always wrote. When I was five or six, I started writing little rhyming poems about cats and hats. In high school and college, I thought maybe I would be a reporter because it seemed like a practical use for writing."



Booklist, July, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of The Myth of You and Me, p. 1902.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2000, review of Body of a Girl, p. 916; July 1, 2005, review of The Myth of You and Me, p. 708.

Library Journal, July 1, 2005, Andrea Tarr, review of The Myth of You and Me, p. 71.

People, December 26, 2005, Michelle Green, "Books," review of The Myth of You and Me, p. 55.

Publishers Weekly, July 10, 2000, review of Body of a Girl, p. 44; July 25, 2005, review of The Myth of You and Me, p. 40.

Raleigh Independent Weekly, September 6, 2000, Whit Coppedge, "The Fundamental Question."

School Library Journal, March, 2006, Jane Halsall, review of The Myth of You and Me, p. 256.


Amarillo Globe-News Online, (September 24, 2000), Ann Warnecke, "Crime Beat Goes On."

Armchair Interviews, (September 10, 2006), Andrea Siscoe, review of The Myth of You and Me., (September 10, 2006), review of The Myth of You and Me.

Book Page, (September 10, 2006), Iris Blasi, "The Bonds of True Friendship," review of The Myth of You and Me.

Book Reporter, (September 10, 2006), Jennifer Wendel, review of Body of a Girl; Alexis Burling, review of The Myth of You and Me.

Conversations with Famous Writers Web site, (September 10, 2006), interview with Leah Stewart.

Genrefluent, (September 12, 2001), review of Body of a Girl.

Independent Online, (November 12, 2003), John Valentine, "LitLocal: Leah Stewart," interview with Leah Stewart; (September 10, 2006), Whit Coppedge, "The Fundamental Question."

January Magazine, (January 16, 2002), J. Kingston Pierce, "Fiction Report #7."

Leah Stewart Home Page, (September 10, 2006).

Metro Magazine, (January 16, 2002), Art Taylor, "North Carolina Writers Deliver a Cornucopia of Fall Releases."

Pif Magazine, (February, 2001), Camille Renshaw, "One on One with Leah Stewart."

St. Petersburg Times Online, (August 20, 2000), Jean Heller, review of Body of a Girl.

Salon, (June 14, 2000), Suzy Hansen, review of Body of a Girl.

Spectator Online, (August 30, 2000), Art Taylor, "Memphis Murder Mystery."

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Stewart, Leah 1973–

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