2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award Winner
New York Times bestselling author Chris Grabenstein earned his BS in communication in 1977 from the College of Communication and Information. While attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the Chattanooga native acted in dozens of plays and contributed to the Daily Beacon as an editor, columnist, and cartoonist. It was this experience that propelled him to a stellar professional career.
After completing his degree, Grabenstein moved to New York City and began performing in improv comedy troupes with the likes of Bruce Willis and the late Robin Williams. Grabenstein wrote for Jim Henson’s Muppets and cowrote the TV movie The Christmas Gift, which starred musician John Denver. In addition, Grabenstein spent almost two decades writing radio and television advertisements. He was executive vice president/group creative director at Young & Rubicam NYC from 1991 to 2005.
A playwright and screenwriter, Grabenstein also writes books for young audiences as well as mystery novels, including the Ceepak series. His work includes Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, The Island of Dr. Libris, and the Haunted Mystery series, along with 10 books coauthored for young readers with James Patterson. His 11 novels for adult readers include the nine books in the John Ceepak Mysteries series and two in the Christopher Miller Holiday Thrillers series.
Grabenstein visits hundreds of schools in person and through video calls to talk to his young readers. He also spends time volunteering and tutoring young people at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church. Along with his philanthropic work, he contributed to the College of Communication and Information by establishing multiple scholarship funds for advertising and information sciences’ students and is an emeritus member of the college’s Board of Visitors, on which he served from 2003 to 2005. Grabenstein received the UT Accomplished Alumni Award in 2009, and in 2018, he received UT’s highest alumni honor – the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
“In my time at UT, I learned anything was possible,” Grabenstein said at the 2018 Alumni Awards Gala. “All you had to do was be bold enough to imagine yourself doing it and seize the opportunity.”