Pellissippi State professor’s new novel explores race relations in rural Tennessee

Charles Dodd White
Associate Professor Charles Dodd White‘s new novel, “How Fire Runs,” is a literary thriller about what happens when white supremacists try to take over a small town in Tennessee.

Appalachian author Charles Dodd White didn’t have to search for inspiration for his fourth novel, “How Fire Runs.” When it comes to race relations in rural Southern settings, all he had to do was look around. 

“I was just paying attention to America, unfortunately,” said White, an associate professor of English at Pellissippi State Community College. 

“How Fire Runs,” published in October by Ohio University Press, is a literary thriller – a political page turner about what happens when white supremacists try to take over a small town in Tennessee. As residents grapple with their new reality, minor skirmishes escalate and dirty politics, scandals and a cataclysmic chain of violence follows. 

White, who was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame for fiction in 2018, started writing “How Fire Runs” in 2017, after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to one death and 19 injuries when a self-identified white supremacist deliberately rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. 

White wanted to explore what might happen if white supremacists like those at the Charlottesville rally converged on a rural Tennessee community. 

“How Fire Runs” is marked by action and conflict, with characters both inside and outside of the law. Although a departure from White’s earlier works, the new novel repeats certain themes, including the importance of environment. 

“The book starts with an epigraph from Wendell Berry, noting that how we treat the environment and how we treat people are entwined,” explained White, who lives in Knoxville. “If we look at 2020’s reckoning on race, we can see our tendency to extract and exploit in this country. I am curious about whether we can do better as a people.” 

White knew “How Fire Runs” would be published shortly before the presidential election of 2020, and he believes that the book continues to be relevant. 

“Right-wing populism very clearly shares an ideology with a lot of people who seek power at any cost,” White said. “And those can be more dangerous when they’ve been repudiated or defeated.”  

“How Fire Runs” has been named a 2020 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, an early spotlight on books that are likely to “go national,” according to the organization.  

To order “How Fire Runs,” visit White’s website,, which includes links to where you can purchase the book online.