Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

Catalog » Browse by Title: C » The Committee

The Committee


Professor Tom Stall’s career and life are threatened when a nefarious government-affiliated group of men begin investigating the private acts of innocent people in late 1950s Florida.

$16.95 $12.71

What people are saying…

The 2021 Southern Literary Review Book of the Year

“In this sharply crafted novel, his seventh, [Watson] re-creates the era with rich detail and a creeping sense of dread . . . The Committee is the kind of story that makes you hope it can’t happen here—but reminds you that it already has.”
Tampa Bay Times

One of the Best Historical Novels of 2020 (Tampa Bay Times)

“Watson has written a fine, eloquent, powerful book and its message will remain timely. Let us heed its warning even as we savor the story so well told in its pages.”
Southern Literary Review, Read of the Month for September 2021

“Historians, of necessity, are skeptical of historical fiction. But there is the atypical work, such as Patrick Smith’s A Land Remembered, that historians praise for its historical verisimilitude. Sterling Watson’s The Committee has a narrower scope than Smith’s Florida epic, but Watson accurately conveys the emotional turmoil induced in Floridians by the Johns Committee in the 1950s.”
Florida Times-Union

“A captivating read and an absorbing tale about the abuses that can arise from intolerance and prejudice. It carries a warning from the past to the siloed, fractured communities of today.”
Historical Novel Society

“Bold and intriguing.”
Lambda Literary

The Committee is at once an historical, political, and academic novel, and it is one that succeeds on all these fronts . . . Those who yearn for a return to the solid, established 50s may not know just what it is they are wishing for. The Committee should serve as a wholesome reminder.”
Reviewing the Evidence

The Committee takes place on campus, but deserves to be included with those ‘academic’ novels like Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe, Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, and Jane Smiley’s Moo, all books that burst out of their scholarly settings to light up the characters and societies they live in. And life in Gainesville in the 1950s doesn’t bear looking at too closely: Without being preachy or didactic, Watson’s book exposes the race, class, and gender wars running below the picturesque pathways like tainted water; there’s been some progress since then, but the reader is led to wonder how meaningful it’s been . . . This book will hold you to the very end, and after.”
Creative Loafing Tampa, a Poet’s Notebook post from Peter Meinke, Poet Laureate of Florida

“My best fiction read this summer was local legend Sterling Watson’s newest novel, The Committee. Could not put it down.”
Paradise News, recommended by Nanette Wiser

“Sterling Watson’s new novel, The Committee, transmutes Lavender Scare investigators’ ruthless assaults on suspected homosexuals in 1950s Gainesville into heart-racing fiction that’s every bit as spellbinding as Watson’s noir masterpiece Suitcase City . . . Even in the midst of its historical and political pre-occupations, as well as its expertly paced progression into danger and violence, The Committee has its moments as a finely nuanced academic novel. With its richly drawn cast of identifiable English department types, from the brilliant and ambitious to the middling and jaded, their covert alliances and prickly departmental meeting dynamic, The Committee at times feels like a darker counterpart to Richard Russo’s Straight Man.”
New York Journal of Books

Included in CrimeReads’s list of The Best Historical Fiction of 2020 (So Far)

“A well-written story with many layers, that Watson skillfully peels away in each and every chapter.”
Bookstr, Three to Read pick for the week of February 3

“The Johns Committee, a real, if lesser-known, McCarthy-esque group active in Florida, hovers over this tense, character-driven novel set in 1958 . . . Watson ably evokes a sense of the McCarthy era’s regional impact in this thought-provoking story.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Watson] does an excellent job of portraying a time, place, and culture without assigning contemporary values where they didn’t exist . . . The dialogue is realistic, and the pacing, especially toward the end, is quick and intense. Any reader wanting a history lesson wrapped in a compelling, believable novel will find much to contemplate here.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Whether he’s stoking his narrative or letting his mind wander, Watson writes crisp, beautiful prose.”

“This academic mystery takes us into the depths of the Cold War, Florida edition, as a bunch of professors find themselves targeted by the mysterious Committee, dedicated to using law to control morality. As The Committee begins, a professor commits suicide, and a curious onlooker gets more than he bargained for when he opens his own investigation.”
CrimeReads, included in CrimeReads’ Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2020

“An engrossing, if not at times dark tale in which at the end of each chapter you simply cannot afford to put it down long enough to let your mind run riot on what you believe to be happening!”
Exclusive Magazine

“A work of historical fiction set in the turbulent era of McCarthyism (1950s America, specifically in Gainesville, Florida).”
St. Petersburg Catalyst

“A work of historical fiction recalling a McCarthyistic period of Florida history, centering the action in Gainesville where university students and staff attract special attention from the governor’s henchmen.”
I Love the Burg

“In 1958, the Florida legislature created a committee to root out civil rights supporters, left wingers, and ‘homosexuals’ from public universities. This novel dramatizes the moral choices the committee’s work forced faculty members to make.”
World Wide Work

“Sterling Watson imbues the lives of these closeted gay men fearing exposure to the masses with gravitas and humanity. Historically relevant and as timely-as-ever, Sterling Watson’s narrative both entertains and informs in equal measure.”
Bolo Books

“When you immerse yourself in a Sterling Watson novel, you’ve put yourself in the hands of a master. Watson’s 8th novel, The Committee, brilliantly and disturbingly sheds light on The Johns Committee, a McCarthy-esque organization that ruthlessly hunted down suspected Marxists and homosexuals in the 1950s.”
—Tombolo Books, #1 Bestseller for January 2020

The Committee is a triumph of historical fiction—and a warning from our past. Sterling Watson swiftly and elegantly anchors the reader in an era that many would love to forget, and then reminds us of the humanity within the history. Watson is the rare writer who can address the big ideas—politics and power, love and hate, fear and freedom—without ever losing sight of the characters at the story’s heart.”
—Michael Koryta, New York Times best-selling author of How It Happened

“Sterling Watson is a rare find among writers as he commands all the elements of great fiction, and he continues to prove this with The Committee. In his latest must-read, Watson uses his great skill to shepherd readers back to 1950s Florida and a terrifying time when unchecked power, driven by hatred and prejudice, destroyed lives.”
—Lori Roy, Edgar Award–winning author of Gone Too Long

“Sterling Watson’s The Committee shines a bright light on one of the darkest times in our collective history. This multilayered and complex look at how easy—and terrifying—it is for power and hatred to corrupt is a must-read for anyone who still subscribes to the notion that the 1950s were an idyllic time in American history.”
—Greg Herren, author of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories

“Timely and pertinent to today’s cultural and political climate, this fictional account of the persecution of gay people by the state in the 1950s reveals a part of Florida’s past that sowed prejudice against our community for decades. This is a must-read.”
—Gale Massey, author of The Girl from Blind River

The Committee is a timely reminder that the hard work of resistance and social justice often falls to reluctant ordinary citizens—the question is, will they rise to the moment or go-along-to-get-along? Sterling Watson’s historical novel takes us to a Florida in the grip of a McCarthyesque governor determined to rid the state of homosexuals and communists. I found myself riding anxiously alongside Tom Stall as he doggedly navigated the hazards of his own imperfections, and the fraught politics of his Florida campus, trying to protect his career and family without sacrificing his integrity. Again and again, I shook my head in frustration at the craven politics portrayed in this book while taking inspiration to fight the injustices we face today.”
—Alsace Walentine, Tombolo Books


In the late 1950s, Gainesville, Florida, seems to be a sleepy university town. Its residents live, by outward appearances, ordinary lives. And yet the town is far from ordinary. The most private acts of professors, students, townspeople rich and poor, and politicians are under the close scrutiny of a shadowy group of men—the Committee—who use the powers of government and the police to investigate, threaten, and control this increasingly fearful community.

The Committee pits friends against friends and threatens careers and lives in a struggle for the soul of a town, a university, and an ideal. Based on actual historical events and set against the backdrop of political, cultural, and class turmoil, this is a story of love—both licit and hidden—war, friendship, betrayal, compromise, and finally the necessity to stand firm against the encroachments upon freedom by men who believe they are doing God’s and the government’s righteous work.

Read event previews for The Committee at the St. Petersburg Patch, the Tampa Bay Newspapers, St. Petersburg Catalyst, Tampa Bay Times, Shelf Awareness, the Gainesville Sun, and two separate event previews for Tombolo Books and the Writers in Paradise Reading Series from I Love the Burg.

Read a feature on Tombolo Books including their inaugural event for Sterling Watson and The Committee at the Tampa Bay Times.

Listen to an interview with Sterling Watson at Coastal Rainbow Forum.

Read a guest post from Sterling Watson at CrimeReads.

Watch a feature on Tombolo Books, including a highlight from Sterling Watson’s launch event at Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend (ABC Action News WFTS Tampa Bay):

Book Details

  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Published: 1/7/20
  • IBSN: 9781617757686
  • e-IBSN: 9781617757822
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617757839


STERLING WATSON is the author of nine novels, including Sweet Dream Baby, Fighting in the Shade, Suitcase City, and The Committee, which was the 2021 Southern Literary Review book of the year. Watson’s short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, the Georgia Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. He was director of the creative writing program at Eckerd College for twenty years and now teaches at Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts. Of his sixth novel, Suitcase City, Tom Franklin said, “If this taut literary crime novel doesn’t center Sterling Watson on the map, we should change maps.” Watson lives in Gulfport, Florida. Night Letter is his latest work.

More info »