Women Writing About Women

WHO WALKED THE LINE

In the introduction to the new book she edited, Woman Walk The Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives, veteran music journalist/critic Holly Gleason notes, “Whenever you want to know someone, I found all you have to do is ask them what artist they love — really, really love.”
     With that in mind, Gleason asked a collection of women she admires to write essays about the female country artists who stirred them and forever changed their lives. The result is a significant work that has best-selling novelist Alice Randall writing vividly about her introduction to Lil Hardin, primarily known as a pioneering jazz vocalist, pianist, composer, and arranger, but who also made an early contribution to country music as the piano player on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #9.” Woman Walk The Line also includes celebrated music critic/historian Holly George-Warren telling how rock trailblazer Wanda Jackson lit a fire in her and recording artist Grace Potter relating how she found inspiration as a young girl from the work of Linda Ronstadt. Potter isn’t the only artist who wrote a piece. Rosanne Cash (June Carter Cash), Taylor Swift (Brenda Lee), and Aubrie Sellers (Alison Krauss) also contributed to the anthology of 27 essays, which includes Gleason’s own discourse on how she discovered Tanya Tucker’s “punk country” at a record store in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
     Talking about Woman Walk The Line recently, Gleason, who is a regular contributor to The East Nashvillian, explained the genesis of the book. “Over my whole career, I’ve been having lots of conversations with people about the artist that was like, their artist,” she says. “And I thought it would be really interesting to combine these truths and see what I can make happen.”
     The book, which hits the streets on Sept. 20, is being published by University of Texas Press. Originally, Gleason was supposed to write a different book for the publishing house, but that project was postponed when she was accepted into a master’s program at Spalding University. “I was under contract with the University of Texas to do a book about Emmylou Harris, and my editor very graciously let me table it when I got into Spalding to get my master’s,” she recalls. “Part of getting a master’s in writing is a lot of reading. And the more I read, the more I thought about all the fantastic women writers that I have known being a journalist for 30 years.
     “David Manconi, who was one of the founding editors of the University of Texas’ American Music Series, is the person who reached out to me about the Emmylou Harris book,” she continues. “I called him and said, ‘I know I promised you this book, but I really have this other thing I’m super passionate about doing.’ And he went, ‘OK.’ And I explained why, and he said, ‘Let me call the top editor in Austin and see.’ They came back with, ‘Well, anthologies don’t do well, and you know, traditionally this isn’t what people buy into, but if you want to write it up, we’ll look at it.’ ”
     So Gleason pulled together a book proposal that included her list of writers and a number of the artists she thought the writers would want to cover and sent it to Manconi and his colleagues. “I don’t think they had seen it the way I did because once they got the paperwork, they were like, ‘Yeah, we should do this,’ ” she says.
     Once she got the go-ahead, Gleason began the task of confirming the writers and their subjects. “One of the first people I reached out to was Rosanne Cash because I fell in love with the eulogy she gave at June Carter Cash’s funeral,” she says, recalling the piece by Cash she included in the book. “I thought that really set a nice tenor for what we were trying to do.”
     Cash and Swift are also featured as subjects of essays penned by a pair of well-known music critics, with Deborah Sprague writing about Cash and Elysa Gardner contributing the piece on Swift.
     As Gleason went down her list of writers, each phone call or email centered around one central point. “I think every single conversation started with the question: Is there some artist, some woman artist, who had an impact on you, that you wish you could write about, and it’s really about your life and it’s really about their music?” she says.
     The answer Gleason got to that question from each of the writers she tapped was a loud and resounding, “Yes!” And as the writers share their passion for the 27 iconic artists featured in the anthology, from Mother Maybelle Carter, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton to Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Patty Griffin, they remind us of what made these artists inspirational, these women who walked the line.