Teachers often tell their student to pay attention to spelling words. Sherry Robinson, the vice provost of Eastern Kentucky University, did just that in second grade. She used them to write a poem about shoes, and knew right then she wanted to be a writer.
Although she’s forgotten the poem, she remembers the enthusiasm she felt then because it’s with her ever since.
Today, she’s an author. And so much more.
This Saturday, Robinson begins the book tour for her second novel, “Blessed,” published this spring by Shadelandhouse Modern Press Books in Lexington. The event is sponsored by Brier Books, whose table is called Homegrown Authors, at the Lexington Farmers Market. Then, the first week in August, she’ll be in Faulkner Country Library in Conway, Arkansas, to sign books and meet with its book club.
Other tour stops include the Barnes & Noble in Elizabethtown, the Paul Sawyer Library in Frankfort’s gathering for authors, an early October event at the Daviess Country Public Library, and at the Books by the Bank Festival in Cincinnati in late October. There’ll be other readings and book signings between now and spring as well, the author said.
“Blessed” tells of a young preacher who came to a small Kentucky town to revive a dying church — to shake things up. The variety of people he encounters tells his story. The author’s father was a lay preacher and, when she was six, Robinson was preaching sermons to her family on Sunday mornings. Dedicated to preaching, she even gave sermons to the furniture.
When she was seven, Robinson wanted to grow up and be a preacher. Her second-grade teacher told her women couldn’t be preachers. Sadly, Robinson believed her; the teacher dashed, and damaged, the child’s dream. A resourceful student, she devised Plan B: to be a published author.
Robinson’s first novel, “My Secrets Cry Aloud,” traces seven women who have lived in an old house over its 200-year history.
“It’s not a family saga. Each woman writes her story and leaves it in the attic,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be re-released next year by Shadelandhouse Modern Press Books, and Silas House, the internationally known Appalachian author, will write the forward.”
The author’s family “generally supported” her childhood poems, which often centered around “death and other morbid things.” Those topics challenged depressed family members, who found it “hard” to be encouraging.
When not writing poetry, Robinson wrote stories. A childhood friend recently told her she used to tell really good stories.
“I don’t remember doing that, but apparently, I did,” Robinson said. “The only story I remember writing, I was in sixth grade, was about a girl who wanted to run away from home. And no, it wasn’t about me.”
Robinson’s work when she was younger was melodramatic. Although she won speech awards for 4H, she never entered writing contests and did not report for a student newspaper. She was a bright student: Robinson graduated from high school after her junior year, started college at seventeen, and graduated just shy of being 21.
Prior to becoming EKU’s vice provost, a job that entails being the chief academic officer, creating policy, overseeing general education, and the university’s accreditation, development and compliance practices, Robinson taught in EKU’s English department. She specialized in Southern and Appalachian literature. Although she has a doctorate in English from the University of Kentucky, she’s currently enrolled in the master of fine arts program in creative writing at the university’s Bluegrass Writers Studio.
As if work and studies weren’t demanding, Robinson is the volunteer director for Grace Now Food Pantry in Richmond, and said that’s where she is “spiritually nourished.” Although the position requires a lot of record-keeping/paperwork to ensure there’s enough food in the pantry, and that all of the organization’s rules are followed, it’s interacting with clients that fills her heart.
“It’s all about the relationships we build with the people who come in,” she said.
Where does she find the time to write?
“Long weekends in Gatlinburg with my husband, Glenn (an electrical engineer),” Robinson said. “When you’re passionate about something you carve out the time to do it, and I’m passionate about my writing. I always find time to write.”
How her husband supports her is “when I say I want to do something with my writing, he always says go for it! He’s my sounding board. Or, if I’m stuck, I’ll talk it through with him; he gives feedback. He’s a reader, and he knows what’s working and what’s not, and he knows me well enough, too.”
The couple recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary.
Telling stories is what compels Robinson to write.
“A story is what drives us all. And if I can tell a story that will make people think about the world in a different way, then I can explore and understand the world in a different way,” she said. “I’ve discovered a lot as I write: how I feel about issues, fears I didn’t realize I had.”