Robert Leleux stokes some book-club envy in a recent issue of The Texas Observer with a short piece about the Pulpwood Queens, whose motto is “where tiaras are mandatory and reading good books is the rule.” The Queens have chapters all over the country–more than 260, by Leleux’s count–and a few hundred of its members get together once a year to “converge upon the deep woods of East Texas, dressed in hot pink satin, leopard-print capes and enough rhinestone tiaras to choke the entire Royal Court of the Cotton Bowl parade,” Leleux writes. “Then we rat each other’s wigs, throw a couple of high-steppin’ theme parties, and award much-coveted statuettes to the person, for instance, who wore the best Barbie costume. Also to the person who wrote the year’s best American novel.”
Here’s how it works: Each month, individual chapters–who’ve named themselves things like “The Sirens” and “Queens in the Hood” and “Queens on the Rocks”–gather to discuss Kathy’s selected titles, wear outré get-ups, and eat pot-luck suppers. Then they blog about their talks with their fellow queens worldwide. At the end of the year, they vote for their favorite novels and children’s books. (This year’s winners were Pat Conroy’s South of Broad, Jamie Ford’s p, and Melissa Conroy’s delightful picture book Poppy’s Pants.) And finally, at their Girlfriend Weekend convention, held annually at Jefferson’s Convention and Tourism Building, the Queens dub their chosen writers (in a ceremony similar to a knighthood) “Jewels of the Pulpwood Crown,” in addition to attending readings and discussions led by prominent authors.
This jolly atmosphere is, Leleux notes, rarely cultivated around literature–but it’s what’s made the Queens so successful.
[W]hat all this fake fur and hairspray really amounts to is having fun with serious literature, in the midst of a drab cultural landscape in which fun isn’t a word often associated with la vie littéraire. I mean, has anybody tried to watch Book TV lately? It’s like visually ingesting a lithium capsule. Why is that? There used to be an air of public revelry surrounding books. The bitchy remarks of Mary McCarthy or Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavett Show were actually the stuff of water-cooler chit-chat, even scandal. But today, public revelry is too often killed off by the very people attempting to “promote literature”–wellmeaning sorts like Laura Bush, who talk about “the importance of reading” in the same Somber Sally tones one might use to encourage flu vaccination.
Source: The Texas Observer
Congratulations to The Texas Observer, which is nominated for a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage.