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Laura Moriarty says you can "pretty much throw a rock at any building" in downtown Lawrence and hit somewhere she worked while writing her first novel.
The book's creation spanned eight years, multiple states, assorted jobs — waitressing, tutoring, nonprofit work and teaching among them — a graduate degree and a writing fellowship.
Ten years after its initial publication, Moriarty's first novel, "The Center of Everything," is now set to be the Kansas University Common Book for the 2014-15 school year, the university announced Tuesday.
Moriarty has taught creative writing at KU as an assistant professor in the English department since 2008. She also went through KU's creative writing M.F.A. program, partly as a way to finish the book, Moriarty said.
The novel, set in an imaginary town in Kansas, follows main character Evelyn Bucknow from girlhood to college. Running through the novel are national and regional issues including poverty, educational opportunity and Reagan-era politics, as well as political issues peculiar to Kansas, such as debates over teaching evolution.
As the child of a military father, Moriarty moved around the country growing up, everywhere from Florida to Utah to Montana to Hawaii. But she said she feels a "connection with Kansas" and its residents.
"I'm really excited to talk about the book with people from this area," she said. Not least because Kansans, unlike many readers and reviewers on the coasts, "won't impose any weird Wizard of Oz imagery" on the novel, Moriarty joked.
The book is the first novel chosen since the Common Book program started in 2012. As part of the program, all incoming students will receive a copy. This year's chosen book, "The Worst Hard Time," culminated in a campus visit by its author, Timothy Egan.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement she hopes the choice of "The Center of Everything" will provide students an opportunity for in-depth interaction with a campus author. Moriarty anticipates visiting classes, giving readings and delivering seminar talks on her novel as part of the Common Book fare.