Trenton Lee Stewart (1970–)
Trenton Lee Stewart is a contemporary novelist and short-story writer. He is well known as the author of The Mysterious Benedict Society series of best-selling young adult novels. Described by Kirkus Reviews as “entertainingly quirky” and “hung about with cantrips to catch clever readers,” Stewart’s writing incorporates a cerebral playfulness, utilizing wordplay and mental puzzles that the reader is invited to solve along with the characters. The series has garnered nationwide popularity among students and teachers alike. Additionally, his stories have been published in a number of literary magazines, including the Georgia Review, Shenandoah, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the New England Review. The 2004 Best American Short Stories volume, published by Houghton Mifflin and guest edited by Lorrie Moore, cited Stewart’s story “Moriah” as a “Distinguished Story of 2003.”
Tenton Lee Stewart was born on May 27, 1970, in Hot Springs (Garland County). His father, Jerry Stewart, owns a restaurant supply company in Hot Springs, where he is also a church pastor. His mother, Sandi Stewart, is a retired teacher. Stewart has one older sister.
Stewart’s interest in writing dates back to childhood, when in third grade he began producing stories and poems, many in a comical vein. Stewart attended Hendrix College, where he began writing seriously. He married Sarah Beth Estes, a fellow classmate; they had two children and later divorced. After graduating from Hendrix College in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in English, Stewart received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1995. His thesis for the graduate program was a collection of short stories titled, “The Black Madonna Shrine & Grotto and Other Stories.”
Stewart continued to write and publish short stories for the next decade, while supporting his family with a number of various jobs, such as video store manager, hotel night clerk, and data entry clerk. He worked as a library reference assistant at the public library in Cincinnati, Ohio; taught workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival; and eventually took a position as visiting professor at the Miami University of Ohio.
Stewart’s first novel, Flood Summer, was released in 2005 by Southern Methodist University Press. Described by the Dallas Morning News (October 30, 2005) as “Greek Tragedy by way of Arkansas,” this Southern Gothic novel chronicles the relationships of its central characters as floodwaters inundate the countryside.
Stewart’s second book, The Mysterious Benedict Society, was published in 2007 by Little, Brown and Company. The book chronicles the adventures of several “exceptionally gifted” children who are recruited to infiltrate a shadowy organization headed by “Mr. Curtain,” a criminal mastermind who uses a special machine called the “Whisperer” to control the thoughts of ordinary people through subliminal messages hidden in advertisements and media. The book remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year.
Two more books followed, also appearing on the New York Times bestseller list. The second installment, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, was released in 2008, the year the author won the Porter Prize; this book was awarded Arkansas’s Booker Worthen Literary Prize. In 2009, the third book in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, was published.
Stewart’s The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict was published in 2012 by Little, Brown. The author acknowledged that it is a prequel of sorts but said it is not technically part of the original Mysterious Benedict trilogy and stands alone. The Secret Keepers, a standalone young-adult novel, was published in September 2016 by Little, Brown. Three years later, Stewart published the fourth book of the Mysterious Benedict series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages. In June 2021, the streaming service Disney+ premiered an eight-episode series, The Mysterious Benedict Society, based upon Stewart’s novels; this was followed by a second season in 2022.
Stewart resides in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
For additional information:
Hickey, Jordan P. “Trenton Lee Stewart’s ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ Is an Enterprise in Emotional Memory.” Arkansas Times, August 2021, pp. 26–28. https://arktimes.com/rock-candy/2021/07/27/trenton-lee-stewarts-the-mysterious-benedict-society-is-an-enterprise-in-emotional-memory (accessed January 20, 2022).
Trenton Lee Stewart. Hatchette Book Group. https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/contributor/trenton-lee-stewart/ (accessed January 20, 2022).
Savage, Mollie. “Interview with Trenton Lee Stewart, Author of The Mysterious Benedict Society.” Toasted Cheese. http://www.toasted-cheese.com/ab/07-09.htm (accessed January 20, 2022).
Webb, Kane. “Harry Who?” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 22, 2007, pp. 1J, 6J.
Little Rock, Arkansas
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