New Orleans author Grace King’s childhood turns from Civil War era refinement to navigating the bayous with her family on a flatboat and then emerging to a different life in New Orleans after the war. In the present day, Meredith Mandin becomes fascinated by the life of Grace King after her husband returns from the war in Afghanistan, and they begin a new direction for their family. In her debut novel, Finding Grace and Grit (Forthcoming 2021), Khristeena Lute shows how Meredith and Grace risk poverty and social suicide as they carve daringly different futures than the ones society had prescribed.
Meredith Mandin is a first-generation college student and a new doctoral candidate. Just as she begins her doctoral program, her mother runs off with a man she just met, and her father is arrested. With a wry sense of humor at the dark and comedic turns of her life, Meredith struggles to parent her daughters and her mother, navigate the treacherous waters of competitive graduate students, and find a job to prevent sliding back into her family’s generational poverty—all while finishing her dissertation on Grace King, a pre-Modernist New Orleans writer.
Meanwhile, in her own time, nine-year-old Grace King survives the Civil War and grows into a strong, southern writer—until her own family’s darkness threatens to destroy her sense of self and identity. Meredith and Grace struggle to define themselves one hundred years apart. Even though they live in different centuries, Finding Grace and Grit shows the darkness southern women often face as well as their resolve to overcome it.
"To read Khristeena Lute’s Finding Grace and Grit is to be swept into a gently twirling caduceus—to experience two women, two worlds, two times simultaneously through interlocking narratives. A young nineteenth century writer, 'Grace King of the New Orleans Kings,' climbs from her family’s post-bellum fall from socioeconomic grace to become an independent woman in elite literary circles while twenty-first century budding scholar, wife, and mother Meredith Mandin builds her social chops to rise from a struggling, dysfunctional Appalachian family to establish her own family and career. In discovering Grace King as a fiction writer and breathing woman who transcended her time and place, Meredith discovers her own path toward personal purpose, gender equality, and stability. These women confront societal constraints, bigotries, sexual oppression, misunderstandings, violence, and betrayals, growing in strength with every step. After we encounter such luminaries as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Samuel Clemens, and George Sand through Grace’s eyes and a pair of abusive and predatory parents, naysayers, and the controversial King herself through Meredith’s eyes, a shared vision emerges. The healing caduceus begins its liminal work. With humor, grace, and grit, Lute tells a complex tale of redemption with such lucidity that the reader can virtually see her winking behind the page." —Kathleen McCoy, author of Green and Burning and Ringing the Changes
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“Through the thesis of Meredith Mandin, a fictional graduate student, Khristeena Lute reveals the life and works of Grace King. King, a Civil War survivor, achieved some fame as a self-supporting writer whose works were admired by Mark Twain. In her debut novel, FINDING GRACE AND GRIT (Forthcoming 2021), Lute releases King from the 19th century and gives her as a compelling gift to readers in the 21st.”—Beverly Fisher, author of GRACE AMONG THE LEAVINGS (2013), a Civil War novella told from a child’s point of view.
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"In this debut novel, Khristeena Lute creates a compelling tale about two southern women separated in time by more than a century. Each struggles to find her own voice despite domestic and cultural obstacles; each longs for adequate reward to ease the financial burden for herself and family. Told in tandem as alternate chapters, the two dramas become more entwined as the story’s protagonist, graduate student Meredith Mandin, digs deeper into the subject of her dissertation: a real-life nineteenth-century writer, Grace King.
At first glance, King’s experience seems a distant shore, almost quaint, as her family escapes from New Orleans during civil war. However, as the fictional character Meredith deepens her own search for an emotional and professional haven, the two women’s lives become more parallel, their determination more profound, their yearning to feel safe more universal. Margins of time slip away as Grace and her beloved city inhabit the grad student’s head and heart. Like her subject, and over the course of academic and personal milestones, Meredith reaches epiphanies, girds her courage, and discovers the redemptive power of trust.
The aptly titled Finding Grace and Grit will convince readers that Khristeena Lute is a sensitive storyteller. Part of the pleasure of the book is its unadorned everydayness. She tells it simply but considers weighty themes. In addition, readers who know Grace King from her letters, journals, and memoir will find this factional version delicious. Lute captures an essence of the too-little-known writer and pioneering historian. She might well send readers in further search of King’s life and works which, of course, is what Meredith Mandin would want her dissertation to do."
--MIKI PFEFFER, PhD., Author of A New Orleans Author in Mark Twain's Court: Letters from Grace King's New England Sojourns (LSU Press, 2019) and Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women's Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World's Fair (University Press of Mississippi,
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"Khristeena Lute's Finding Grace and Grit touches upon the ways ambitious women throughout history must navigate their particular societal norms and challenges to reach their highest potential. Throughout the novel, with history in step with the present, both Grace and Meredith are each seeking their unique voice and defining their passion and purpose. The circumstances of their lives and their place in time may be different, but the core remains: women have to work harder and smarter. Both women are strong and both are survivors. Finding Grace and Grit bestows the reader with the parallel lives of two female characters who in the face of financial ruin, familial trials and heartbreak, professional triumphs and adversities, find their way to their best selves."--MELISSA CORLISS DELORENZO, author of the novels, Talking Underwater (2015) and The Mosquito Hours (2014).
Projected Publication Date: May 1, 2021
Suggested retail price: $18.99
Barnes and Noble
Fiction, Historical Fiction
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020948747
Khristeena Lute is a writer and English professor currently residing in upstate New York, where she spends as much of her time outdoors as possible—running, hiking, and camping—or following whatever projects or topics interest her that week.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Ohio University before she became a junior high literature teacher in Yuma, Arizona. During her time as a teacher, she completed a Master of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Northern Arizona University just as the Army shipped her family across the country to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. While there, she finished both a Master of Arts in English from Austin Peay State University and a Doctorate in English from Middle Tennessee State University, specializing in American women writers from the Civil War to present.
Khristeena has written several academic chapters on Grace King, which have been published in various anthologies of literary criticism. Finding Grace and Grit is her first novel. Finding Grace and Grit (Forthcoming) is a novelization of the life of Grace King (1852-1932) intertwined with the narrative of the modern writer trying to write a doctoral dissertation about her.
Find Khristeena on Instagram, @khristeenalute, or at her personal webpage, khristeenalute.net.
Photos of New Orleans (Top): "A vista through iron lace, New Orleans" by Arnold Genthe.
(Second): "Ground floor of the Victor David House (Le Petit Salon), St. Peter Street, New Orleans" by Arnold Genthe. Library of Congress, Arnold Genthe Collection.
(Third): "Oak Tree, New Orleans" by Arnold Genthe. by Arnold Genthe. Library of Congress, Arnold Genthe Collection.