Synopses & Reviews
The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland
focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the
most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton.
Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah
Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities — and
strengths — of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by
female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about
life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes,
"country music was foremost a language among women. It's how we talked
to each other in a place where feelings aren't discussed." And no one
provided that language better than Dolly Parton.
Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book,
Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in
She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for
The Journal of Roots Music,
No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to
social progress by such women — including those averse to the term
"feminism" — as exemplified by Dolly Parton's life and art.
Far beyond the recently resurrected "Jolene" or quintessential "9
to 5," Parton's songs for decades have validated women who go unheard:
the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged
as "trailer trash." Parton's broader career — from singing on the front
porch of her family's cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving
stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from "girl singer" managed by
powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy
empire — offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender,
class, and culture.
Infused with Smarsh's trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity,
She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and — call it whatever you like — the organic feminism she embodies.
"Affectionate and astute....Smarsh's luminescent prose and briskly tempered storytelling make for
an illuminating take on a one-of-a-kind artist." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"A highly readable treat for music and feminist scholars as well as Parton's legion of fans."
"A warm-hearted journey into
what Dolly means to generations of women who saw their lives reflected
in her songs, who first embraced her not as a star but a sister."
Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia
About the Author
Sarah Smarsh is a Kansas-based journalist who has reported for
The New York Times,
The Guardian, and many other publications. Her first book,
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth,
was a finalist for the National Book Award. A 2018 research fellow at
Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public
Policy, Smarsh is a frequent speaker and commentator on economic