She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs

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**One of Time’s Top 100 Must Reads of 2020**

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 MusicNo 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.

Author: Sarah Smarsh

Hardback Published 13 October 2020 208 pages


"Parton is endlessly quotable and fun to read about, but [She Come By It Natural] is also enriched by its glimpses into Smarsh's Kansan family. . . Knowing when to fight back and when to cut your losses is, in Smarsh's account, a talent shared by Parton and many of the working-class women she has immortalized in song and onscreen."—Harper's

"Growing up, Sarah Smarsh was surrounded by the type of women Dolly Parton so often sings about: impoverished women in rural America who use both their smarts and sexuality to get by as best they can—often despite the men who would hold them back. These women populated Smarsh’s 2018 memoir Heartland, a National Book Award finalist. And in her stirring, insightful collection of essays about the country music icon, she gives them and Parton their due for redefining womanhood even as their class and culture worked to keep them down. Smarsh anoints Parton a badly needed beacon: in a divided country, she remains that rare someone who everyone can love."—Time 

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Spokane Spokesman-Review

She Come by It Natural —Wall Street Journal

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