Anyone local to Knoxville knows of Dolly Parton’s legacy and impact on the culture of the south, Her multi-billion dollar theme park and attractions bring people from across the world to visit East Tennessee. Although Parton has been in the limelight for decades, her popularity has recently risen, highlighting the work she does in her hometown and across Tennessee.
Graham Hoppe, an author originally from Indiana now located in North Carolina, was fascinated by Dolly’s persona and impact on Appalachian culture. His book, titled “Gone Dollywood: Dolly Parton’s Mountain Dream,” focuses on exactly that.
The book talks about Dollywood and where it was founded, as well as where the park sits in a cultural sense. It also debunks common stereotypes about southerners like that everyone in the south is a “hillbilly” or how much southerners love Cracker Barrel and Paula Deen. “Gone Dollywood” compares these southernisms to Parton’s perspective of the Appalachian landscape. In his book, Hoppe explains how Parton sells southern nostalgia, helps her hometown and stays close to her humble roots.
“It’s sort of about Dolly and her persona, and the real sort of facts about all the good work she does, and how important her place is in Appalachian culture,” Hoppe described. “I was a huge fan of hers, and Dollywood stuck with me more than I expected when I first visited. It really kind of fascinated me, and I wanted to learn more about it and dig more into it.”
The author, along with Dr. Lynn Sacco who is a professor of history at the University of Tennessee, held a discussion at Union Avenue Books in downtown Knoxville describing the contents of the book, as well as Dolly’s overall impact.
“As an outsider from the north, Dollywood is so welcoming; it is within the parameters of the southern family values, yet it is still welcoming,” Dr. Sacco explained, “I’ve met people from London whose first place they visited in the US was Dollywood, and I was so shocked.”
Dolly’s impact is not only seen through the park; it can also be observed through her personal life, from her contributions with the Imagination Library and her strong activism.
“There’s such good will about (Parton). People think so highly of her, and I think she’s never truly left her hometown. She’s kept her presence and she has a huge presence in the mountains. A lot of celebrities get big and move away, but Dolly has always stayed true to her hometown. She’s a trailblazer in country music as well … She writes and produces all of her own songs in a genre where that is not always easy for women,” Hoppe said. “I didn’t set out the book to be a celebration of Dolly, but because of who she is, it sort of turned into that.”
Hoppe’s book, “Gone Dollywood: Dolly Parton’s Mountain Dream,” is available at Union Avenue Books located just off of Market Square, as well as on many online retailers and other local bookstores.