Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

By Lynn Willoughby

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek ~ Kim Michele Richardson

In 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt announced The Works Progress Administration. The Pack Horse Library Project was part of an effort to create jobs for women and bring books and reading material to Appalachia, into the poorest and most isolated areas in eastern Kentucky that had few schools, no libraries and inaccessible roads.  This is a fictionalized story of one of the “Book Women”.  

Our heroine’s name is Cussy Mary, she is almost twenty years old and she is blue skinned.  She and her mule “Junia” spend five days a week, in all seasons and all weather, delivering reading materials that she has hand picked for her patrons.  These are the poorest of the poor, living in very isolated, remote regions, many with no schooling.  Her “patrons include Henry, a young boy who is slowly starving to death, getting worse every time Cussy sees him.  He loves to read.  Loretta is almost blind and loves literature.  Cussy reads to her each time she is on her route.  Angeline is sixteen, married and pregnant and is learning to read with the Book Woman’s help and the primary readers she leaves each visit. 

This story is a lens on the times.  Women cannot own property, must be married and “protected’ by a man.  (Many are not protected, in fact they are abused often).  Cussy Mary’s father is a coal miner and dying of lung disease – a little more each day.  He walks five miles to work and spends his shift underground in very dangerous working conditions,  breathing coal dust.  Cussy Mary must immediately hand over her pay of $28 a month to her father.

Because of her blue skin, Cussy Mary is considered “coloured’ – and cannot use the toilet at the library where she collects the books to be delivered.  No one will eat her cake at the Fourth of July picnic and she is abused or invisible to most of the townspeople.  This is a story of heartbreak and strength, terror and courage, prejudice and hope.  It is “…a powerful message about how the written word affects people.”  

  • Liar’s Bench
  • Godpretty in the Tobacco Field
    • and several others

Who Knew?

In 1820, Martin Fugate, a French orphan, came to Kentucky to claim a land grant.  He married a red-headed, white skinned Kentuckian named Elizabeth Smith.  They had seven children, four were blue.  It was against all odds that Martin would find a bride who carried the same blue-blood recessive gene.

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