We call them The Pushers—women who are pushing themselves in new directions and toward new passions. We hope that through their inspiration in this regular feature, they’ll push you to take a leap of your own—or maybe just a small first step. Banner photo by: Robert Langham III
Kathy Murphy has reinvented herself numerous times and has made a career out of encouraging others. A former hair stylist, she was working as a rep for a book publisher when she was laid off. This prompted her to start the first beauty salon/bookstore, in the country, Beauty and the Book, in deep East Texas. She also founded a book club, the Pulpwood Queens, which now has 700 chapters in 15 countries. Then came the book. Her book: The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life. She is known for promoting the work of unknown authors and helping millions find great reads. Now, after a painful divorce and some other setbacks, she is taking another turn in her life. Because that seems to be her job—showing us how to keep re-creating.
When and why did you start Beauty and the Book? What kind of work had you done before this?
I have made all the mistakes, so by reading my stories you will learn the pitfalls to miss and the adventures you can have if you only face your fears.
I opened Beauty and the Book on January 18, 2000, after losing my job as a rep for a book publisher the previous fall. Since so many big box stores had moved into the territory I was covering, many, many independent bookstores began closing their doors. I was the last hired, so first to go. It was my sister Karen Penner’s idea that I open a hair salon/bookstore, the only one in the country at that time. I called her asking her advice on what to do for a job and she told me to reopen my beauty shop. I had always been a successful hairstylist, but I told her I would be so bored. She quickly retorted, “Well, then do the book thing too!” Beauty and the Book was born, not as a brilliant marketing move, but as a survival tactic in this ever-changing world of commerce.
Why did you start the Pulpwood Queens Book Club?
I started the book club, The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys, just after I opened Beauty and the Book. The local book club had invited me to their meeting and then told me that I was only invited as a guest. Evidently, the membership was set at eight people, and I was told by my host, “Unless someone dies or moves away we can’t have anyone new. That’s all that fits around our tables.” I thought if I am ever going to be in a book club, I’ll have to start it, and I did with six complete strangers. Now has grown to be the largest “meeting and discussing” book club in the world.
Did you ever dream you’d write your own book?
I always wanted to write a book. I learned how to type by myself when I received a typewriter from Santa in the 5th grade. It was a Smith-Corona, and I still have it. But I never really pursued it, thinking it an impossible task, until a publisher called me and asked me to write the book about the first year of being in business. I ended up attending a publishing party with likes of James Patterson and Stephen Colbert. I had arrived all because I did this crazy thing. I tell you this not to boast, but to show people that if you think a bit outside the box, great things can happen if you have a passion for what you do. That is what my book was all about. Sharing with folks, perhaps even non-readers, why it is important to read. Reading not only saved my life, it gave me my life’s work. Our book club’s mission is to promote authors, books literacy, and reading—all while helping authors get discovered in a big way. It’s a win, Win, WIN career for me.
Reading not only saved my life, it gave me my life’s work.
You’ve been through a loss recently. How have you recovered?
Several years ago, I went through a painful divorce after almost 25 years of marriage. I had to sell my shop, sell my home, leave my church (where I had been the youth leader), and leave the town that I had started and grown my business in. My question is: what if you lose everything? I found out. You may get knocked down, but you get back on the horse. I relocated on a wing and a prayer and downsized. At my new salon, I only carried my Pulpwood Queen Book Club Selections, but I forged ahead. I took on another job as youth director of my church in Hawkins, Texas, and found a tiny house in the woods that I call “Murphy’s Law.” It’s been hand to mouth, but then I had a producer call me from Hollywood, which started a year-long conversation. That conversation grew into a screenwriter in Hollywood pitching a film about my life. We got a bite, and it was a big one. My film rights sold to DreamWorks. I buckled to my knees on that one. It’s a process, just like the book business.
You have a new salon in a new town. How did that come about?
I’m like the KAT with nine lives. I keep having to reinvent myself, but I have never been happier.
I re-opened Beauty and the Book, and many of my clientele followed me on that journey. They have stayed very loyal, but the community I am in is mostly retired folks. It’s not a tourist town, so my business never really took off. I closed the doors on Beauty and the Book this past December. I am still doing hair part time, but when that door closed, I looked for another window of opportunity. I have gone back to college and will finish my B.F.A. in Art Mixed Media in fall 2017 at The University of Texas in Tyler, Texas. In the midst of all this midlife change, my father died. I had already had two heart ablations since my divorce, so my mind, body, and spirit were taking a big whooping. I had an epiphany. I was now alone, on my own. My kids had flown the nest, as well as my husband, to greener pastures. With my father gone, I knew I had to do something drastic to save myself. So I took that big ole lemon and made margaritas yet again. I went back to college, and it saved my life. I’m like the KAT with nine lives. I keep having to reinvent myself, but I have never been happier.
Where are you taking the Pulpwood Queens from here? What’s next?
Another book of course: its title is The Pulpwood Queen Goes Back to School. It’s about how important it is to keep reading and educating yourself to have the life of your dreams. I have made all the mistakes, so by reading my stories you will learn the pitfalls to miss and the adventures you can have if you only face your fears.
How is your life now different than how you imagined your midlife years before you started Beauty and the Book?
I refuse to be a victim of circumstances, which means you have to get out of your comfort zone and go for it.
I know that at 60 I am on the last chapter of my life, but I am here to tell you it is pretty fantastic. I plan on going directly to graduate school, as life is all about learning for me. I get to be around young people all day who help keep me young at heart. I refuse to be a victim of circumstances, which means you have to get out of your comfort zone and go for it.
Any advice for other women who want to Age Boldly?
My advice is when something bad happens, get it all out and grieve. We have to do that but then get back on the horse and ride, Ride, RIDE! We all have a gift and a purpose; find yours and you truly will have a life worth living.