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Terry Tempest Williams: Dolly Parton


Terry Tempest Williams: What I'm Reading

She Come By It Natural

Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs

Sarah Smarsh

I have always loved Dolly Parton. My feminist friends thought I was crazy, but in truth, Dolly Parton shows us again and again what gifts like love, talent, strength, intelligence, and tenacity look like. In Sarah Smarsh’s illuminating book, part biography and part memoir, we see how Dolly Parton inspired women like Smarsh’s Midwestern mother to not only find her voice but use it.

There are revelations in the book. When Dolly Parton was approached by Elvis’s agent, who told her that Elvis loved her song, “I Will Always Love You” and The King wanted to sing it, Parton, a newcomer to Nashville, turned down the lucrative offer. If Elvis sang the song, he would own it, because he was Elvis. She knew the song that belonged to her.

Dolly Parton never forgot who she was and where she came from. If you thought mountain people were “poor white trash” then that’s what she’d look like for you to keep your stereotype alive. But song by song, thousands written and sung, Dolly Parton undermined people’s prejudice. I’ve given half a dozen copies away to my young feminist friends. Revelatory.

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Terry Tempest Williams is the author, most recently, of Erosion: Essays of Undoing. She is a writer, activist, and icon of the American Southwest. She teaches at Harvard Divinity School. Follow her on Twitter at @TempestWilliams. 

Books by Terry Tempest Williams and all Journal of the Plague Year contributors can be found on our bookshelf on, the anti-Amazon, aimed at keeping independent bookstores alive.