The Pulpwood Queens
Tiaras and bedazzled hot pink t-shirts sparkle while scissors, blow dryers and hairspray bottles flit about in the hands of Beauty and the Book’s stylists as they perfect the looks of their clients. While waiting under the dryers for their dye jobs to reach the glossiest hue, customers flip through the Pulpwood Queens’ Book Club selection novels, their noses almost touching the pages as they read intently. They anxiously await the climax of the story, as well as the upcoming Girlfriend Weekend celebration that allows them to embrace their inner beauty queen and bookworm.
During the weekend of January 15-18, the Pulpwood Queens — the world’s largest “meeting and discussing” book club — hosts its annual Girlfriend Weekend celebration in Nacogdoches and celebrates the 15th anniversary of Beauty and the Book and the formation of the book club.
The success of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club began with the opening of Beauty and the Book — “the world’s only hair salon and bookstore” — on January 18, 2000. After being fired from her job as a book publisher’s representative, Pulpwood Queens founder Kathy Murphy struggled to find a career that combined her talent for hairstyling and her love of books until she was given an idea that would lead to the opening of Beauty and the Book in Jefferson, which recently moved to Hawkins.
“Opening Beauty and the Book came about as my sister suggested I go back to doing hair, since I had done so well doing that putting myself through college,” Murphy said. “I told my sister I thought I would be bored without a book connection. She told me, ‘Then do the book store thing, too.’ Bells and whistles went off in my head and I opened, exactly at the same time, a combined hair salon/book store called Beauty and the Book.”
Business media coverage of Beauty and the Book skyrocketed after its grand opening was covered by Oxford American Magazine. Media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, the Oprah Winfrey show and Time magazine are just a few means through which Beauty and the Book became renowned and began to have celebrity clients such as Kinky Friedman and the late Joan Rivers grace its doors. Shortly after Beauty and the Book opened, Murphy founded the equally-famous Pulpwood Queens Book Club.
“I started the Pulpwood Queens Book Club truly because the local book club had invited me to join them when I opened my shop, so I did,” Murphy said. “But what I found out at the end of the meeting was they only invited me as a guest. The hostess told me by taking me aside that only eight could be in the book club, as that was all that could fit around their tables. As I drove home, I thought to myself if there was ever going to be a book club that I would want to be in, one that was inclusive, not exclusive, I would have to start that book club.”
Murphy started the Pulpwood Queens Book Club with, “six complete strangers.” The meetings were originally held at Beauty and the Book, where readers donned tiaras and wore hot pink, official Pulpwood Queens t-shirts while discussing books. Eventually, the meetings moved outside the salon because the number of Pulpwood Queens members kept rising and the club now has more than 550 chapters located in the United States and abroad.
“I never in the world dreamed that I would run the largest ‘meeting and discussing’ book club in the world,” Murphy said. “How did this happen? Well, we make reading big time fun. Our motto is, ‘where tiaras are mandatory and reading is the rule.’ As far as our books, we do take them very seriously. They must be well-written, tell a story we have not heard before, and be discussible. We love to help first time, first book authors or those whose body of work has not been discovered in a big way. Our sole mission is to promote our authors, their books, literacy and reading, and for each chapter to take on a literacy mission.”
The Pulpwood Queens’ literacy mission is manifesting in several states across the country. The two chapters Murphy runs started a Dolly Parton imagination library pre-school literacy initiative in Marion and Wood County. The Southwest Louisiana chapter of the Pulpwood Queens has sponsored a school in Nicaragua, providing it with books for students to read. The international span of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club is what inspired the theme for this year’s Girlfriend Weekend “Around the World with Books” celebration.
“Since we started, our book club has expanded in the United States, coast to coast, from Alaska to Florida, New York to California and now to 15 foreign countries,” Murphy said. “We may have started out reading southern/regional books, but we now read books from around the world, so ‘Around the World with Books’ is the perfect theme to celebrate. Our 15th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend is the most spectacular of all our events.”
Events taking place during Girlfriend Weekend include a screening of the Warner Brothers film, Blended, and a following question-and-answer session with the screenwriter, Clare Sera, as well as an author dinner, during which some of the more than 50 authors partaking in Girlfriend Weekend wait the tables of guests.
“I have invited in the best authors, the best vendors and the best musical artists; the best of the best,” Murphy said. “Some big surprises will be revealed, too, so nobody will want to miss the biggest, book-loving party that I have ever done.”
While Murphy is working out Girlfriend Weekend’s final touches, she is also building Beauty and the Book clientele, working on the second edition of her book, The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life, writing a novel, and building more Pulpwood Queens chapters.
“I feel pure, unadulterated joy and happiness that our mission and purpose is gaining a wider audience and people are having so much fun reading,” Murphy said. “Whatever we do in the future, you can bet it will be big-time promoting literacy.”