The Adventure of Life

By Elizabeth Barnhill

Craig Cunningham’s young adult novel is inspired by Waco and the people within it

Craig Cunningham is making a splash with his new book, “One Night In A Thousand Years” which was nominated for a prestigious Audie Award earlier this year and wrestles with the question, “What does it look like to be invited into the adventure of life?”

Cunningham, a native Wacoan, spent his young adult life reading as often as he could.

“When I was 17, I fell in love with books,” he said. “I started reading classics like Emerson, Thoreau, C.S. Lewis and other authors who feel timeless.” He was a frequent visitor to Brazos Books, a used bookstore in Waco, and found many treasures there that continued to feed his love of good stories.

Cunningham credits the start of his writing life when he participated in a workshop on writing, taught by Jonathan Reynolds, during his senior year of high school. He dedicated “One Night in a Thousand Years” to Reynolds.

“Jonathan gave us all a journal,” Cunningham explained. “He encouraged his students to write and to come back the next week to share what we had written. This mixed my love of reading with a new skill I loved. And I’ve been writing ever since.”

“One Night In A Thousand Years” is loosely based on the experiences of this writing group. In it, a group of young men in high school, known as The Warrior Poets, meet weekly with a charismatic leader to write and share their writing. The protagonist, a senior in high school, joins the group and discovers the power of being invited into what Cunningham calls “the adventure of life” — something great and beyond themselves. Many of the characters are amalgamations of different young men who participated in this group that Cunningham was involved with.

The book is set in Waco; readers will recognize familiar landmarks such as the Oakwood Cemetery, Tonkawa Falls, Baylor University and even Valley Mills Drive.

Cunningham felt a need to write a book that he would have wanted to read as a young adult.

“I was looking for books like the one I wrote,” he shared. “I wanted to read this book as an 18-year-old man with a lot of questions about what comes next and where am I going to go? What am I going to make of my life? It speaks to the heart of young men and the things that they are wrestling with at that time in life. You are between boyhood and manhood and about to step out into this new world and be on your own for the first time. Those questions are at the heart of the book.”

Cunningham has written both professionally and creatively since high school. He wrote for Magnolia for many years and still writes for the Magnolia Journal. He has also recently written for Field & Stream and the American Cancer Society. He is currently the creative director at Harris Creek Baptist Church. He feels his latest venture, “One Night In A Thousand Years”, is his most commercial project yet and will appeal to a broad audience. He self-published the book through his company, Canowan.

After an event promoting the book at Fabled Bookshop last year, a producer, Kent Rabalais, saw a post on the book, read the story and loved it. He had been looking for a project to develop into film, and also thought the book would make a great audio book. Rabalais asked celebrity James Van Der Beek to narrate the book, which was recorded in Austin last year and produced by Kent Studio. The audio book was nominated for an Audie Award, which is given to the best audio books in a variety of categories. “One Night” was a finalist for the Young Adult audio book of the year and Cunningham and his wife, Kayleigh, flew to Los Angeles for the awards show in March.

“We felt a little out of place in that award show world,” Cunningham laughed, “but we were really honored to be represented with so many amazing books that have been on bestseller lists all year.”

While the book was released in 2023, the Audie Awards really amplified new excitement about the book, with Cunningham invited to a variety of podcasts to share more of his (and the book’s) story. One that stands out to him was the podcast “You Can Mentor”, a mentoring organization started by Wacoans.

Cunningham is a Baylor University graduate. He lives in Waco with his wife Kayleigh and daughters Ada, 9, and Indie, 6. He is working on his next novel called “Three Days in Terlingua”.