Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

The Glorious Pastime: Indya Kincannon

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon loves biographies and My Brilliant Friend

Indya Kincannon moved to Knoxville with her husband, Ben Barton, in 2001, after he joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee College of Law. She has jokingly described herself as “the trailing spouse,” but within a few years of their arrival she was elected to the Knox County Board of Education, where she served for a decade. From 2015-2018, she worked in the administration of Mayor Madeline Rogero, and in 2019 she won the race for the mayor’s office herself, in spite of being significantly outspent by her opponent.

Mayor Kincannon is a graduate of Haverford College and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. She and Barton have two teenaged daughters, Dahlia and Georgia, and the family includes a rescue dog named Bobo, who accompanies Kincannon on jaunts through Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness.

Mayor Kincannon answered Chapter 16’s Glorious Pastime questionnaire via email.

Chapter 16: What book are you currently reading, and what led you to choose it?

Indya Kincannon: I just finished The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel. It’s the third book in a trilogy based on the life of Thomas Cromwell. The son of an abusive blacksmith, Cromwell rose from nothing to become the key advisor and power broker for King Henry VIII, the Tudor king who broke from the Catholic Church and had six wives. Mantel is an excellent writer, and I love historical fiction.

I’m also reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It describes the heroic efforts of Dr. Paul Farmer to combat tuberculosis in Haiti and other poverty-stricken parts of the world. Very relevant!

Chapter 16: What book have you been recommending recently and why?

Kincannon: Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning is an excellent book that gives a compelling history of racism in the U.S. through the lens of Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis.

Recent novels I have loved include My Brilliant Friend by Isabel Ferrante. This is the first book in a four-volume set. It revolves around the complicated friendship and rivalry of two women growing up in the second half of the 20th century in Italy. Their relationship and lives are drawn in such a rich way — I couldn’t put it down. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk is so unusual and beautifully written. It’s about life in rural Poland in the not-too-distant past. The lead character is one-of-a-kind.

Chapter 16: What’s the first book you remember loving, and what did you love about it?

Kincannon: I’ve always loved reading. I remember loving the Little Golden Books, Shel Silverstein, and all the “Meet So and So” biographies [Step-Up Biographies Series]. I also loved The Great Brain Series and all the books by Madeline L’Engle, Katherine Paterson, and Judy Blume. 

I read to learn, read to escape, read to engage. Books are like friends who are always there, anytime, to help you get through hard times, to help you fall asleep, to help you focus. They can serve so many purposes. I am always reading several books at once, not to mention newspapers and magazines.

Chapter 16: Is there a book you want to read that you never seem to get around to?

Kincannon: Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

Chapter 16: Is there a scene or a passage from a book — fiction or nonfiction — that haunts you?

Kincannon: I really loved the first part of Robert Caro’s multi-volume bio of Lyndon B. Johnson, The Path to Power. I love biographies, and the early years — the origin story, if you will — is always my favorite part. The description of Texas Hill Country, LBJ’s poverty-stricken childhood, really shed a lot of light on his later years.

Chapter 16: What’s your favorite way of meeting books these days: paper, screen, or audio?

Kincannon: I definitely prefer a paper book. Just something about holding a tactile object, and I spend too much time on screens already!

Chapter 16: What’s the next book on your “to read” list?

Kincannon: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

The Glorious Pastime: Indya Kincannon

Maria Browning is a fifth-generation Tennessean who grew up in Erin and Nashville. Her work has appeared in Guernica, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The New York Times. She’s the editor of Chapter 16.

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