By Carla Stewart
Kathy Patrick of Jefferson, Texas, has two passions in life: making women feel beautiful inside and out and promoting literacy.
“Books saved my life,” she says. They provided an escape from her dysfunctional childhood in Kansas where she had no idea what she wanted to do when she grew up. Kathy struggled with school in those early years, but when her fourth-grade teacher recommended the book Honestly Katie John, Kathy realized for the first time that reading could be enjoyable. It’s a love that has lasted a lifetime. Her all-time favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, fitting since Kathy ended up in the Piney Woods of East Texas, the entrance to the deep South.
In the late 1990s, she worked as a book publisher’s rep—her dream job—but when they down-sized, she was left without a job throwing her life in limbo.
By then she was married and had two small girls, but she was determined to do something in life that mattered. Although she’d been to beauty college and loved fixing hair, she didn’t want to just do that. Her sister suggested she combine her love of hairdressing with her love of books.
January 18, 2000 marked the Grand Opening of Beauty and the Book, the ONLY Hair Salon/Book Store in the world! One of the first things Kathy did was invite her beauty shop patrons to come and talk about the books they loved to read—a book club that would focus on fun, freedom and acceptance. She picked the name Pulpwood Queens as homage to the East Texas logging and paper industry, but also to empower women to pamper themselves — to allow themselves the luxury of leisure reading.
She wrote of her experiences in her 2008 memoir, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life. There are now more than 525 Pulpwood Queen book clubs worldwide.
Kathy’s energy is boundless, and she has, at times, been dubbed “Oprah of the Piney Woods”. Her larger-than-life personality and enthusiasm are contagious as she encourages book club members to “pay it forward” and look for ways to find beauty in others and promote literacy in their own communities. She leads by example by being a prominent civic figure, leader of her church youth group, passionate literacy advocate, and Head Queen at the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.
When her first year as owner of Beauty and the Book came to an end, she decided to bring authors and readers together. The Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend has been going strong for twelve years now. I’ve had the privilege of attending the past two years. Kathy invites authors (from huge name New York Times best-sellers to those who’ve just penned their debuts) to her tiny hometown of Jefferson, Texas. This year, authors served book club members at an author dinner, participated in panels for two full days, and several gave keynote presentations. On the final evening, everyone celebrated with the Great Big Ball of Hair costume party. It’s outrageous fun, but the central focus of the weekend was, as always, promoting literacy and introducing new books and authors to readers.
Authors provided items for a silent auction to benefit the Dolly Parton Imagination Library (read about it here). The local Methodist youth group sold concessions to raise funds for their new building. Authors and readers shared stories about what they’re doing that has made a difference in their communities.
At the 2012 Girlfriend Weekend, the circus theme brought out the clown in everyone, but the real performers were the book club members who’ve taken a page from Kathy Patrick and made a difference.
Some of the highlights this year:
- More than $3000 raised for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and other literary endeavors.
- $7,000 was presented to area school libraries from money raised in the past year by the local Pulpwood Queens.
- Mary from Anchorage, Alaska, started five chapters of the Pulpwood Queens including one in a women’s prison. When the women were paroled, they asked to form their own chapter—the Paroled Pulpwood Queens of ALASKA!
- Alyse from Colorado rescued books from a library sale that were to be sent to the pulp mill and distributed them to homeless shelters and libraries. She also helped create an elementary school library on an Indian reservation that had no resources for such. In February, Alyse will start a new book club for homeless women.
- Kay and her book club in southwest Louisiana helped start a book club in Nicaragua and provided books and textbooks for a school there. Several members went on a mission trip there to provide the books.
- One club responded to the call from a club in another state and hosted a family stranded in their city who had a medical emergency. One of the members stated, “It wasn’t anything special. This is just what we do.”
Kathy has the same matter-of-fact outlook about what she does. She states, “If you’re doing what you have a true passion for, everything just makes sense. My dream is that all should be able to read and read well. If so, you have all you need to educate yourself and live the wonderful and purposeful life God intended for you!”
What are you passionate about? If you love books or reading or just want to help others, here are some things you might consider:
- Invite your neighbors or church friends to form a book club. Or post a notice at your local library inviting others to join. Some of the Pulpwood Queen members didn’t know a single woman in their group, and now they are friends for life.
- Consider ways your book club can reach out and touch other lives as the creative women honored at Girlfriend Weekend have done.
- Volunteer to listen to a child read. Your local school may be waiting for your call.
- Volunteer to read during the “children’s hour” at your local library. Be prepared to give and receive hugs.
- Contact your local nursing home and see if any residents would like you to come and read to them.
- Find out what is being done to promote literacy in your town and join the effort.
As Kathy Patrick says, “Pay it forward!”
You never know whose life you might save.
Kathy L. Patrick is the founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club and Beauty and the Book, the only hair salon/bookstore in the world. She lives just outside historic Jefferson, Texas with her husband, Jay, and daughter Madeleine. Their oldest, Helaina, attends the University of Texas in Tyler. Kathy’s passion is promoting literacy and bringing authors and readers together
Learn more about Kathy and the Pulpwood Queens at www.beautyandthebook.com.