Louisville’s Popham releases
first novel, set in Nelson County, Ky.
Fictional novel is based on stories
she heard growing up
By Helen E. McKinney
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (April 2014) – From the time she was a little girl growing up in central Kentucky, Mary Popham was fascinated with the stories her family told. Whether or not grownups knew she was in the room, she would listen with rapt attention to every detail.
“I grew up in a household of people who liked to tell stories,” said Popham, 71. “I would always listen when grownups visited; it was our form of entertainment. They talked about the old days, forgetting I was there.”
A native of Nelson County, Popham’s paternal and maternal families settled just south of Bardstown, Ky., in an area known as Landing Run. Popham has written about the community in a new book titled, “Back Home in Landing Run.”
She said when she first began the book, like many writers, she felt somewhat overwhelmed at such a big commitment to write a book. Her husband suggested she write a series of stories, which eventually turned into a fictional novel about events that took place in Landing Run around 1910.
“I made up the characters and incidents, but it is based on things that really happened long ago,” Popham said. The book centers on issues between the Catholic community of Landing Run and Emmalene Hershall, a young Protestant outsider who married an elderly local moonshiner.
Early in history, at a time when Catholic Maryland settlers were seeking religious freedom, 65 families came to Nelson, Marion and Washington counties and settled. This provided Popham with the basic material for her novel.
In addition, “My family is a letter writing and journal writing family,” Popham said. While one of her grandmothers kept a journal, the other was a teacher and wrote many letters in her lifetime. These letters “gave me the ideas for the stories in the book.”
Popham had privately published a book of poetry 14 years ago and may be best known for the book reviews she writes for the Louisville Courier-Journal. She has penned fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays and book reviews for ForeWord Reviews, 2nd & Church, Appalachian Heritage, The Louisville Review and This I Believe: Kentucky. She has produced short plays and written short stories for anthologies.
“Back Home in Landing Run” is “put together like a beloved quilt, out of all the treasures in the trunk,” said author Mary Ann Taylor-Hall in a press release. “It carries in its stitching (and the stitching is expert) deep familiarity and love and assurance. Mary Popham knows Landing Run and its people by heart.”
Popham has always wanted to write. When in school, Popham remembers her English teacher assigning a writing exercise. “I was the only one in the classroom excited about it,” she said.
“I wrote a novel when I was 10 or 11 and a short play for school.” Years later, she attended night school at the University of Louisville, where she took creative writing classes.
Upon retirement from General Electric in 1997, Popham said it was her “goal to retire early and become a full-time writer.” She holds an MFA from Spalding University.
She belongs to the Cherokee Roundtable, a social group for writers. She is the organizations’ Events Coordinator, sending out a newsletter to update its 60-70 members on current happenings. About 18-25 members attend monthly gatherings in Louisville.
In the past, she has been asked to teach writing workshops. Popham taught a seminar at Bellarmine University in 1998 on “How to Start a Novel or Short Story.” She will be teaching an all-day seminar for women writers on Saturday, July 12, in Shepherdsville, Ky., at the Jefferson Com-munity Technical College. “Exploring the Writer’s Craft” will focus on how to get information for historical writing.
“I always loved the idea of the mood of the times (early 1900s)” the novel depicts, she said. “I loved how the grownups talked to each other, but I didn’t write down the stories when I was younger and first heard them.”
She said she hopes the book will teach a lesson about acceptance. Even though the reader might find the characters in the book had prejudices G