Since Laura Still moved to Knoxville at age 20, she's been busy. She's worked as a dental hygienist (and still temps on occasion), a retail store employee, a volunteer Sunday school teacher, a stage manager for Shakespeare on the Square, a tour guide and, most importantly, a writer, all while raising two sons. She's also published a book of Bible-themed plays for grade school children (which she spent five years writing for her Sunday school class) and a collection of her poetry.
As a Knoxville newbie, Still found herself exploring the city after going to church, looking through alleys and staking out buildings that looked like good places to open restaurants. She fell in love with downtown during the 1982 World's Fair, and started learning about the history of the city by listening to stories told by friends and co-workers.
In the meantime, she also picked up writing again. "It was always the way I expressed myself," she says. She'd tell her kids stories and started carrying a notebook around with her (and still does), scribbling bits and pieces of poems or thoughts when she could.
"People need stories," she says. "It's almost what makes us human."
The soon-to-be empty nester is starting some new projects to stay busy, including her new part-time business Knoxville Walking Tours. Inspired by her love of Knoxville history (and Metro Pulse's Secret History column by Jack Neely), the former visitor center employee decided to become a tour guide.
Still started last spring with an early history tour of Knoxville, highlighting the places that played significant roles in the founding of the city. Soon after that, she developed a gunslinger tour of the sites of some famous gunfights,and most recently, haunted Knoxville tours, recounting some famous ghost stories.
"The best ghost stories are always based in history," she says. "Ghost tours are always fun because you can sneak in a little history on [tourists]."
As she sits outside the Downtown Grind, it's obvious Still appreciates the quirks of Knoxville's history. She looks up and mentions the Phoenix building—that was its original name—caught fire three times. In fact, she was just next door when it caught fire the third time.
"How did they know?" she exclaims, laughing at the irony of the building's name.
Despite the many hats Still wears on an almost daily basis, she's considers herself a writer first and foremost.
"It was hard to tell people as an adult ‘I'm a writer,' because it sounds kind of goofy," she says, but she had to make her peace with the moniker. "I don't think you become a writer. You are a writer."