Dolly Parton doesn’t call herself a feminist. She’s made that clear in interviews over her six-decade career. But it doesn’t matter what label she embraces: Parton is an icon, and she’s a hero to many women who hear their lives reflected in her extensive song catalog.
Sarah Smarsh knows Parton’s influence well. Smarsh is the author of the bestselling Heartland, a National Book Award finalist that details her Kansas family’s life in poverty. She was raised by passionate, hardworking women who stood up against the men and systems that often held them down. These women paved the way for Smarsh to pursue her education and then a renowned writing career, though not without challenges.
Along the way, the soundtrack of her life has been populated with songs by Dolly Parton and other female country singers. Smarsh’s mother urged her daughter to listen to the words, and in those lyrics Smarsh heard women speak about survival and making their own way.
She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs is a feminist analysis of not just Parton’s words but also her physicality and business decisions. The essays were originally published in 2017 as a four-part series in No Depression magazine. It was the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, just before the #MeToo movement took hold on a national scale. But the essays still retain their relevance, as this book enters the world in a tumultuous year just before another presidential election.
Smarsh seamlessly weaves her family’s experiences with Parton’s biography—triumphs and shortcomings alike—and cultural context. She Come by It Natural is, as a result, a relatable examination of one of country music’s brightest stars and an inspiring tale of what women can learn from one another.