Audio

Audio

GODPRETTY IN THE TOBACCO FIELD

(See Special Author's Note at the Bottom)

Beauty and sweetness weave a diaphanous fabric
against the stark backdrop of poverty and cruelty.
— Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, "Water For Elephants"

 Spring 2016

A Coalminer's Daughter meets Winter's Bone tale of tender love and loss which examines the power of land, crushing poverty, and the oppression of Appalachian women then and that which is relevant now.

Nameless, Kentucky, in 1969 is a hardscrabble community where jobs are few and poverty is a simple fact—just like the hot Appalachian breeze or the pests that can wipe out a tobacco field in days. RubyLyn Bishop is luckier than some. Her God-fearing uncle, Gunnar, has a short fuse and high expectations, but he’s given her a good home ever since she was orphaned at the age of five. Yet now, a month shy of her sixteenth birthday, RubyLyn itches for more. 
 
Maybe it’s something to do with the paper fortunetellers RubyLyn has been making for townsfolk, each covered with beautifully wrought, prophetic drawings. Or perhaps it’s because of Rainey Ford, an African-American neighbor who works alongside her in the tobacco field, and with whom she has a kinship, despite her uncle’s worrisome shadow and the town’s disapproval. RubyLyn’s predictions are just wishful thinking, not magic at all, but through them she’s imagining life as it could be, away from the prejudice and hardship that ripple through Nameless. 
 
Atmospheric, poignant, and searingly honest, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field follows RubyLyn through the course of one blazing summer, as heartbreaking revelations and life-changing decisions propel her toward a future her fortunetellers never predicted.

 

*Longlisted for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize

*Mayor of Louisville, Book Club Pick for the Louisville Free Public Library

 

 

Praise

GodPretty In The Tobacco Field

"A great piece of work." - NPR, WFPL Radio

"Filled with the music of Appalachia, the wrath-of-God discipline of a sinner trying to keep a youngster on the straight and narrow, and the bred-in-the-bone dignity of a downtrodden community so secluded that its barefoot children don’t even realize they’re considered “poor,” GodPretty in the Tobacco Fields, a memorable story of secrets and scandal, reckoning and redemption, is fine Southern fiction."- Historical Novel Society

“A powerful coming-of-age story . . . Ms. Richardson’s portrait of the neighboring families’ hopeless lives stands out as one of the book’s major achievements. That achievement includes pitch-perfect representation. This beautifully textured novel raises many challenges for its main characters to overcome and, as it comes to a close, many surprises. Saying any more would ruin it for you.” – Southern Literary Review

“Richardson’s latest contains beautifully drawn characters and honest, lyrical language. Through the author’s expressive dialogue and vivid descriptions, the textures of the rural Kentucky landscape – along with the aching emotions that come from RubyLyn, are felt. RubyLyn’s connection with Rainey is sweet, poignant, and tender. This powerful story will leave an impression on readers long after they complete it.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“Setting is everything…The reader learns a great deal about the impact of President Johnson’s War on Poverty in rural Kentucky and, equally, about the place of women in that society in the late 60’s…Sympathetic characters whom readers will wish a happy ending.”– Booklist

"Kim Michele Richardson aptly portrays the impoverished life of the hill people with her images of the beauty yet hardship of the mountains as well as the way this particular world experienced discrimination in the sixties." - The New York Journal of Books

“Richardson’s brilliant writing made me feel as though I were transported back in time to poor parched Nameless, Kentucky and actually there witnessing this poignant heartfelt story. To be able to do that to a reader is a sign of a truly gifted novelist.”— Charles Belfoure, NYT Bestselling author of The Paris Architect

“A voice rich and authentic, steeped in the somber beauty that defines life in the South. Richardson knows this place well, and GodPretty sings of that honesty.” — David Joy, Where All Light Tends To Go

"A reader always recognizes when the author has poured her soul into a body of work. "GodPretty in the Tobacco Field" is a tender, beautifully written second novel."-- Ann Hite
 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

 

GodPretty is a phrase that I made up to show starkness in the brutal and beautiful land and its people and mysteries. The term is necessarily paternalistic in the book and means to the one character, Gunnar, to keep a good and Godly soul if you are of a religious nature as he is. To Gunnar, GodPretty is applicable to females, while a male would be “righteous.” Gunnar uses my coined phrase GodPretty to push his strict moral code on his 15-year-old niece, RubyLyn. It came out of the uncle’s yearnings for his niece —wanting her to be pretty and pretty in the eyes of the Lord, so God would protect her when he no longer could, so that she would have a good life and be smiled upon by others not only because she’d be pretty but because her soul would shine, too. From the opening scene you can feel the title, the contrast with the ugly tobacco fields, giving a foreboding presence. Gunnar controls RubyLyn with this phrase, his large presence, big hands, hard ways of talking, acting. So when he punishes her, she can’t resist, can’t fight, until one day . . .

I wanted to write a tale of tender love and loss, the importance of land, oppression of Appalachian women in the ’60s, and use a unique place. More than anything it was my hope to weave the theme of poverty’s oppression on women and portray the consequences. I do this with the four Stump girls, RubyLyn, and the rest of the women in the fictional town of Nameless, Kentucky. The girls’ actions show how the crushing poverty knows no gender, age, or boundaries, and how it becomes a scattergun, harming the person, the family, friends, and everyone in larger society— how it affects learning, choices, and notions of self-worth on life’s whole journey. And again, in GodPretty we visit racial strife and examine difficult history from this timely subject. We also look at the last public hanging that took place in Kentucky (Rainey Bethea, August 14, 1936, Owensboro, KY).

I hoped to explore Appalachia’s history, back to when President Johnson and the First Lady, Lady Bird, surprised the world and visited the tiny eastern Kentucky town Inez in 1964. Bearing witness right down to the hand-hewn porch of Tom Fletcher that Johnson squatted on, to the color of the First Lady’s coat, and to the reminder of the newly minted coin commemorating President Kennedy. I wanted the reader to feel that hope and loss through the eyes of a 10-year-old RubyLyn.

GodPretty in the Tobacco Field  is rich with music. I love music, particularly the violin. Though I can’t play a lick, my daughter started playing strings when she was three, and my husband plays the coronet and piano. And we have a set of simple hand-carved wooden musical spoons like those mentioned in the book.

The people of Appalachia are born to music, much of it still lost to time’s passing and I pull some lost treasures into the novel like this I found from the National Jukebox in the Library of Congress: “Sweet Kentucky Lady” (http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/913).

Art is important to RubyLyn, and the papers she uses for her fortune-tellers are made from the pulp of the tobacco stalk and have her intricate drawings of pastoral scenes, portraits, and her fantasy cityscapes.

The land is a vital theme, too. It is how we live, breathe. When I was young, I worked in a tobacco field one summer. I hated it. Now my family and I grow vegetables and fruit on our small farm to give to the elderly. But last summer I grew a tiny patch of tobacco to visit that childhood setting again for my characters.

You’ll visit a State Fair in the novel, icons of summer and youth— and look at the Future Farmers of America club before it allowed female membership, the sweeping change it made in 1969, and the important role the youth organization is to our earth and our future farmers.