Actor Ewan McGregor (as young Edward Bloom) carries a St. Bernard puppy through a burning house in a scene from the Tim Burton film "Big Fish." / AP File Photo/Montgomery Advertiser/David Bundy

Chattanooga State Community College has reeled in two prize catches for its next Writers@Work program.

Daniel Wallace was the first trophy. The author of the 1998 best-seller "Big Fish," popularized by director Tim Burton's 2003 film adaptation, had agreed to a weeklong campus visit in April to culminate the two semesters in which students had studied his work. When the coronavirus wiped spring schedules clean, Wallace's visit was postponed until this month. But the same challenges were present for fall.

Rather than canceling, organizers converted live events to virtual ones, to be presented free of charge Sept. 21-25. The schedule is still rich in programming. The only one that got away was the chance to see the author of "Big Fish" speak at the Tennessee Aquarium.

But the COVID restrictions also meant that organizers could cast a wider net, just as they did for last week's virtual YA-hoo Fest, which drew participants "from across the country and from, literally, around the world" in celebration of young-adult literature, says English professor Joel Henderson, Humanities Department chairman.

"In addition to opening the doors to a larger audience, the move to virtual has allowed us to expand our programming in ways that would prove cost-prohibitive if we tried to make it happen in person," he says. "So, once we decided to go virtual, we started to brainstorm. That's how we ended up with Andrew Lippa.

Lippa is the lyricist and composer of the musical version of "Big Fish," which played on Broadway in 2013 and has toured nationally and internationally since.

"Though we wouldn't have been able to afford to bring him to Chattanooga for an interview, he was gracious enough to agree to a live Zoom interview, offering attendees the chance to look into the process of transforming Wallace's novel into an award-winning Broadway musical," Henderson says.

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Joel Henderson, chairman of Chattanooga State Community College's Humanities Department, says novelist Daniel Wallace sent this cartoon representing this year's coronavirus-affected Writers@Work week. "Not only is he an excellent Southern author, but he's also a bit of a folk artist," says Henderson. / Contributed image by Daniel Wallace


Daniel Wallace is the author of six novels. His first, “Big Fish,” was made into a motion picture of the same name by Tim Burton in 2003 and into a musical version on Broadway in 2013. He is a contributing editor to Garden & Gun magazine and is the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he teaches and directs the Creative Writing Program.

"Big Fish," which is subtitled "A Novel of Mythic Proportions," is about a young man (William Bloom) trying to reconcile the fantastical tales told to him by his father (Edward Bloom) as his father lies dying. William believes his father has never told the truth, until he begins to investigate the stories.

Four main events are scheduled for Writers@Work: an interview with Wallace about his novel and craft; a multimedia interview with the author about the film version of his book; an interview with Lippa; and a livestream of selections from the musical.

"Back in the spring semester, our Fine Arts Department was on the cusp of performing the full version of 'Big Fish: The Musical.' COVID restrictions made that impossible, but all the hours of rehearsal won't go to waste since the performers will be offering socially distanced selections via Zoom," Henderson says.

Writers@Work was founded in 2011 as a way to enhance literary analysis from the college's Composition II classes through the reading of a common novel focused on Southern culture and people. It has since grown into an annual arts experience in which participants have been able to interact with a who's who of authors. Previous guest artists have included Terry Kay, Ishmael Reed, Jill McCorkle and Rick Bragg. The 2021 featured author will be Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown.

To register for any of this year's events, go to


› Monday, Sept. 21: “Inside the Mind of Daniel Wallace: The Behind-the-Writer Interview,” 7-8:30 p.m. The author talks about writing, “Big Fish” and life in the South.

› Tuesday, Sept. 22: “From the Page to the Stage: A Discussion of Big Fish: The Musical with composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, noon-1:30 p.m. A look at what it took to transform Wallace’s dreamy novel into a celebrated musical production.

› Wednesday, Sept. 23: Seventh annual KLIC Edible Book Festival awards show, noon-1 p.m. Campus contest for edible creations inspired by literature takes place in Kolwyck Library and Information Commons.

› Thursday, Sept. 24: ChattState Chautauqua: “Fish Out of Water — Translating Fantasy to Film,” 7-8:30 p.m. Wallace shares his thoughts on the movie business and how “Big Fish” made it to the screen.

› Friday, Sept. 25: “Big Fish: The Musical,” 7:30-9 p.m. A virtual night at the theater with a livestream production of selections from the musical and interviews with the actors.