Characters haunted by coal mine explosion in Ole Miss alumnus’ debut novel

Posted on Nov 7 2018 - 5:50am by Kennedy Pope

Tom Bennitt, a 2013 English MFA graduate from Ole Miss, will read from and sign copies of his first novel, “Burning Under,” at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Off Square Books.

“Burning Under” is set in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania and is focused around a deadly coal mine explosion. This thriller is told from the points of view of three people whose lives are disturbed by the disaster.

Photo Courtesy: Tom Bennitt

Larry, a veteran miner, is constantly haunted by his past. He survives the explosion but cannot seem to get out of the media spotlight. Denise is a nurse who is trying to escape her troubled marriage and takes a nursing job at the Pittsburgh hospital. Simon, a lawyer for Commonwealth Energy, thinks the accident was caused by his company’s lack of safety and ethical standards.

Bennitt said he is excited to be back in Oxford for his reading.

“The opportunity to read at (Off) Square Books is very special for me,” Bennitt said. “I worked there in the first year of my MFA program in 2010 … and during my time in Oxford, I saw countless amazing writers read and discuss their work at Off Square. So, five years later, it’s exciting to return with my first novel in hand.”

Slade Lewis, the floor manager for Square Books, worked with Bennitt at the store in 2010.

“We look forward to seeing Tom again at Square Books,” Lewis said. “He is such a thoughtful and conscientious guy. We cannot wait to see how his book reads.”

Tom Franklin, an Ole Miss creative writing professor, taught Bennitt during his time at the university.

“Bennitt came here as a fully formed adult, not somebody right out of undergrad, and used his time here to write some terrific stories,” Franklin said. “Maine lobstering, coal mining, meth — Bennitt’s fiction has it all.”

Although he is currently the 2017-2018 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State-Altoona, Bennitt credits Ole Miss for much of his success in his writing career.

“Although most of ‘Burning Under’ was written after completing my MFA, the craft skills and tools I learned in my Ole Miss workshops, where I was challenged by amazing teachers and classmates, is what enabled me to develop my own voice and write compelling stories and narratives,” Bennitt said.