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TTU News

He’s no stranger to the craft of writing — but he didn’t really expect his first short story, penned more than five years ago, to eventually become his first novel.

However, that’s just what happened for Joseph Lerner, Tennessee Tech University’s dean emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences, who will be signing copies of his book, Coal Fire, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 25, at BookWorks on the Cookeville Square.

With a doctorate in biochemistry, Lerner had written numerous scientific articles for publication, but had explored little fiction writing until an English professor friend encouraged him to pursue that style.

The result is Coal Fire, a fictional coming-of-age story of Sidney Gerstein, a Jewish boy growing up in a Christian coalmining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1950s who searches for the meaning of life, nature of God and the essence of his ethnic heritage and Jewish identity.

Published by the Florida Literary Foundation Press, the book will be available at BookWorks and online from and

While the framework of the story is based on actual situations in Lerner’s own life, the plot itself is entirely fictional.