When Kathy Patrick founded the Pulpwood Queens book club in early 2000, she did so with a handful of members and a simple idea: “for the love of books.” Since then the popular book club has attracted a national following and this month it is holding its annual Girlfriend Weekend, a book festival that attracts hundreds of attendees to Jefferson, Tex.
A licensed cosmetologist turned publisher’s rep, Patrick lost her job because of industry cutbacks in 2000. She decided to partner her skills as a beautician with her history in the publishing industry to open a book store/salon in Jefferson, Beauty and the Books, and start her own book club, the Pulpwood Queens.
In just a little over a decade, the Pulpwood Queens book club has seen exponential growth and now has 550 chapters and about 3,000 members. “We’re not our mamas’ book club,” Patrick said; the group’s motto is, tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule! “We don’t want to be so literary. We want it to be fun. The books we pick are more than a great read. These are books that lead to change—you walk in someone else’s shoes, and you will think differently. The more we know, the better people we are.”
Aside from size, Patrick believes the meet-and-greet aspect sets the Pulpwood Queens apart. “I was the first person to start an actual franchise book club in the country where you meet the author,” she said, explaining that meeting an author helps the reader gain a better understanding of a book. If an author isn’t available to travel to one of her book clubs, she arranges for the author to Skype or call.
To take the reading connection one step further, 13 years ago Patrick started the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson—a festival of book club members and the authors of the books they’ve selected throughout the year. The next meeting, which generally attracts 400 to 500 people, is set for January 17–20, with Michael Morris and Carol Alt giving keynote talks. Past attendees include Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg, Jeannette Walls, and John Berendt. Patrick is in talks to expand her Girlfriend Weekend beyond Jefferson.
Michael Morris’s Man in the Blue Moon was recently named as the 2012 winner of Pulpwood’s Fiction Book of the Year; other winners include The Living End by Robert Leleux for Nonfiction Book of the Year; The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway for Bonus Book of the Year; Wreath by Judy Christie for Teen to Adult Crossover Book of the Year; and The Sandman—Rise of the Guardians by William Joyce for Children’s Picture Book of the Year.
The big-name authors are important to the festival, but it’s not what Patrick is focused on year-round. “We do get big authors, but the whole point is to help the first-time authors,” she said. Patrick chooses the monthly book club selections, and all members of every chapter vote on the winners for the yearly awards.
The growth of the Pulpwood Queens hasn’t diminished Patrick’s drive to continue to expand its reach, although it has made her a bit philosophical. “It’s so interesting,” Patrick said. “When something horrible happens in your life, sometimes something good comes from it. I never would have opened Beauty and the Book if I hadn’t lost my job.” As for the inception of the Pulpwood Queens, “I just wanted to be in a fun book club, and I guess everybody else wanted to be in a fun book club, too!”