BY JENNIFFER WARDELL
BOUNTIFUL – It was her story. He was only there to help tell it.
Bestselling author and congressman Chris Stewart has plenty of experience with the spotlight, but attention was the last thing on his mind when he worked with Elizabeth Smart to write her memoir. Though their joint effort, “Elizabeth Smart: My Story” is currently in the top 10 on the New York Times Bestseller List for nonfuction, Stewart said he’s more proud of the fact that the focus is firmly on Smart.
“One critic said it sounded like a 14 year old girl had written it, and it was one of the nicest things anyone has said about the book,” he said. “I don’t know if he meant it as a compliment, but that’s precisely the voice we were looking for.”
Smart was only 14 years old when she was abducted from her Salt Lake home in 2002. She was found nine months later in Sandy, held captive by Brian David Mitchell. In 2011, Mitchell was sentenced to two life-terms in federal prison.
Stewart, who is currently serving as the U.S. Congressman for Utah’s 2nd District, isn’t new to co-writing. He wrote “Seven Miracles That Saved America” and “7 Tipping Points That Saved the World,” both of which were also New York Times bestsellers, with his brother Ted Stewart.
“When I wrote with my brother, we would talk together and try to decide where the story was going and what was important,” said Stewart. “Working with Elizabeth was really different in that this had to be entirely her story. I wanted so badly for it to be in her voice.”
Though her father was the one to first recommend Stewart for the memoir, it was Smart herself who read Stewart’s previous work and decided that he was the author she wanted to work with on her book.
“She read enough of my books to know this was who I was, and decided this was a project we could work on together,” said Stewart. “From the first meeting, we felt very comfortable with each other.”
The duo began working on the project more than two years ago, walking through some of the sites relevant to Smart’s kidnapping and hearing the story in her own words.
“We spent hours and hours together,” said Stewart. “We went to the place where she was held captive for two months, chained to a tree. She helped me understand the emotions she was feeling at the time.”
To both Smart and Stewart, however, the years that followed are equally important to the story. Smart, who married in 2012, has spent the last several years as an activist working to support sexual predator legislation and raise awareness about abductions.
“The most important thing was to tell the story in a way that was helpful and hopeful to people,” said Stewart. “It was a dark and tragic experience, but it also had to be inspiring. That was the whole point.”
Stewart, who took office this past January, remained dedicated to that vision even as he had to juggle completing the book with his first few months as a congressman.
“There were some late nights,” he said. “But I wrote a couple of books when I was a pilot in the Air Force, and that was a 60-hour-a-week job. Writing has always been something I’ve done in addition to my other responsibilities.”
In the end, he feels the effort was worth it.
“Elizabeth and I are both very happy with the book,” said Stewart. “I think it’s what we were hoping for.”