Linda Fine Hunt has been writing her novel in her head since she was a kid.
A self-described tomboy and writer with a fiercely independent streak, the young Hunt identified heavily with Jo March from “Little Women,” and considered Louisa May Alcott a muse. Walking home from grade school to her family’s house in University City, Missouri, she’d workshop ideas for her future book.
Now, decades later, that book has come to fruition. Hunt, who earned both her bachelor’s and PhD from the University of Missouri–St. Louis, recently published “Particular Place and People,” a historical fiction novel inspired by her own experience growing up in University City during the 1950s and 1960s. Spanning from 1954 to 1966, the story follows 16-year-old Linda, a quirky individualist who sets out to learn more about the culture and history of her neighbors.
Hunt never lost sight of her goal of writing a novel, graduating from UMSL in 1974 with dual degrees in English and education. After college, though, her desires went elsewhere, and she ended up becoming an occupational therapist, earning a master’s in health care services from Washington University in St. Louis.
To earn her PhD, she returned to UMSL in 1991 – this time, in the College of Optometry, which had just launched a new vision science program. It was a long road to graduation, as she was working full-time and caring for aging parents and her own immediate family at the time, but she finally ended up earning her PhD in physiological optics in 2001. Hunt said that UMSL was instrumental in her education and her successes.
“I had instructors who taught and advised me and worked with me individually,” she said. “The physiological optics degree had a lot of mathematics to it, so I had to go back and take a bunch of math classes. The professors in the College of Optometry had me write papers instead of working math equations, and I loved researching information. That’s what I found exciting about the College of Optometry; I was a different student, and they worked with me to be able to produce a great dissertation. I just believe that that school is a gem, and it really helped a lot of people from working class families get a college education when I went back in the 70s and 90s. I have always been grateful for the education I got at UMSL.”
After earning her PhD, Hunt accepted a position as the director of Maryville University’s first occupational therapy program, where she also worked as a professor. She served in the position for nearly a decade until she and her husband relocated to their current home of Whitefish, Montana, in 2002. After the move, she soon found she missed academia and took a position at a local community college setting up new health care programs. In 2006, she started working as a professor in occupational therapy at Pacific University, where she stayed for 13 years before retiring in August 2022.
With more time on her hands, Hunt was finally able to revisit her long-planned novel. Through the perspective of her narrator, Linda, “Particular Place and People” explores the cultural changes in University City starting in the 1800s. Although the book is heavily inspired by Hunt’s own experience growing up in the area, she describes it as historical fiction, and the book’s subheading is “story and truth.”
“I have lots of history in this book,” she said. “It’s more truth than fiction.”
To research the book, she scoured newspaper archives, which lent new context to the memories of her childhood. She discovered that the century-old stone mansion that so intrigued her as a child, for instance, was owned by John C. Roberts, owner of The St. Louis Star newspaper and vice president of the International Shoe Company. She also conducted interviews with 20 different people who grew up in University City at different times to learn about their perceptions of the area.
“The conversation always ended with, ‘It was paradise,’” she said. “It reaffirmed what I was writing about and how much people loved this place. Everybody wanted to talk. It brought back so many memories that I forgot. It started out as my description of this place and how important it was to me and then it branched out to topics of the day and became so much more. The goal of the book is to try and seek some kind of common humanity, and sometimes we find that in a place.”
After first coming up with the idea for her book all those years ago, Hunt is excited to finally bring it to life for readers.
“It’s euphoric,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have achieved something, and I am proud of the book and the direction it took. I think there are lessons in the book for all of us to reflect on.”
“Particular Place and People” is available for sale through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Target.