We all know that Dolly Parton is pretty much the greatest of all time. At 74, she is just as busy as she ever was – she released a brand-new holiday album last year, along with a book (I’ll get to that in a second!), and worked with Netflix to create a one-two experience with music and storytelling.
But why did I call her the Patron Saint of Books? Because, well… she is!
Dolly’s children’s book empire
Okay, okay, the word “empire” is misleading because Dolly isn’t seeing a single penny from what she is doing. Her goal is to help make the word a little bit better.
Dolly runs what is called “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.” This started back in 1995 and has only gotten bigger over the years. Basically, you can sign your child up at birth, and each month you get a high-quality, age-appropriate book for your child to read. Each month. For free. Seriously!
When Dolly first started the library, she was just sending books to children growing up in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she herself grew up. Word got out and demand grew, so in the early 2000s she expanded it. Now, more than one million books are given out each month across the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia.
Dolly and her husband, Carl Thomas Dean, have been married since 1966 but never had children of their own. I like to imagine this is Dolly’s way of shaping the next generation of great minds.
Books about Dolly are happening, too!
Want to know more about this country folk legend? Well, you’re in luck because two huge books about her life and times have just recently been released.
Dolly recently released Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, reminding us all that despite everything she’s capable of doing, she was a songwriter first… and a really, really excellent one.
In the book, she goes on a lot about her storytelling roots, including the very first song she wrote at just six years old (titled Tiny Little Tasseltop about a corncob doll) and one of her most memorable performances from her first record, Puppy Love.
Apparently, Johnny Cash himself introduced her to the stage of the Grand Old Opry when she was just 13, and he certainly left an impression.
There’s also plenty of fun stories about her making it big and what goes on behind the scenes for a singer-songwriter, including how she had to turn down Elvis Presley when he requested to cover “I Will Always Love You.”
Priscilla Presley later shared with Dolly that he sang her that song as they left the courtroom for the last time after divorcing.
Parton also elaborates on her most-beloved song, “Jolene,” which has been covered by over 100 different singers, including her god-daughter, Miley Cyrus.
“Jolene” was written about a woman at the bank her husband used to go to, soon after their wedding. Apparently, she would flirt with Dean… but honestly, who would ever consider looking anywhere else when they were married to Dolly Parton?! The name came from a passionate fan that met Parton backstage.
Not the only book in town…
Parton’s own book isn’t the only recently-released tale about her life, though. Journalist Sarah Smarsh just released She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs. Smarsh’s 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.
Smarsh’s book is all about how Dolly might shy away from the “feminist” label, but she truly embodies what it means to be a strong, powerful, iconic woman. Her big hair, revealing clothes, and over the top personality were ways, Smarsh argues, of exerting power and feeling powerful.
“She was, perhaps, a third-wave feminist born a generation early, simultaneously defying gender norms and reveling in gender performance before that was a political act. Country girls like me were watching.”Sarah Smarsh in She Come by It Natural
Dolly Parton is genuinely a wonderful human being
Look, I don’t know Dolly Parton. I’ve never met her, and I’ve never even been in the crowd when she performed. Truth be told, I’m not much of a country music fan to begin with.
But Dolly, Patron Saint of Books, seems like such a genuine and loving person. She literally saves lives, too! On the set of her Netflix holiday special, Christmas on the Square, Parton saved Talia Hill, a 9-year-old actress. Hill was about to step onto the road when a hand pulled her back – there was a car Hill didn’t see. When the girl turned around, it was Dolly.
She also put up one million dollars of her own money to help the development of the Moderna vaccine in 2020. Seriously, she’s the best.
She also brought a ton of jobs to her home state when she opened Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The 150 acre “amusement destination” is the home of the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame, and hosts numerous concerts and events.
Dolly gives back to her community. She helps people who need it and doesn’t ask for anything in return. That’s why we’ll always love her.