Courtney Miller Santo, a member of the Washington and Lee Class of 1998, is the subject of a fascinating profile in the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal. The reason for the story? Her first novel, “The Roots of the Olive Tree,” is coming out this August, from William Morrow.
Courtney, who teaches fiction and literature at the University of Memphis, wrote a manuscript about a family of olive-growing women in northern California, and last year entered it in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award competition. She made it as far as the top 50 out of 5,000 entrants. Even though she advanced no farther in the competition, she did sign on with a literary agent. She was on vacation last year when she found out that William Morrow wanted to publish it—and had asked for another manuscript as well.
"It just doesn't seem real; it didn't seem real for a very, very, very long time," Courtney told the newspaper. "This is the dream; this does not happen that you get a company that is so excited about a debut novelist that they put this much publicity and effort into it. I feel crazy lucky."
The article describes her childhood near Portland, Ore., where she was the oldest of seven kids in a Mormon family, raised to tell stories and read books and make up plays. “I come from a long line of storytellers on both sides," she said. At W&L, she studied Russian and journalism, and after graduation she worked as a newspaper reporter in Roanoke and Charlottesville. She has since earned an M.F.A. from the University of Memphis.
At W&L, Courtney also met her husband, Charles A. Santo, a member of the Class of 1996. He’s a professor of city and regional planning at the University of Memphis; we blogged about his involvement with the Memphis Music Magnet a while back. They have two kids, Sophia and C.J. You can keep up with Courtney via her thoughtful blog at CourtneySanto.com.