Ginny Lowe Connors

Pack Horse Librarian

The Pack Horse Library Project was a WPA program that employed women to travel on horseback or mule to deliver library books to people in remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains.

They call her The Book Woman. A hundred miles or so each week, she and her horse, Bonny Bee, climb hills, splash through creeks, travel with their load of books over rocky paths. The roadcut rises high, the steep bank eroded by runoff. Eastern Kentucky. Pay is twenty-eight dollars a month. Teacher pauses class when the children begin to shout, The Book Woman is here! The Book Woman! Fourteen books handed out, twelve collected back. On horseback, The Book Woman fords Cut Shin Creek, her feet raised high—the water’s bone-chilling. Brings the recipe scrapbook to Katie Block, sixteen years old and newly married. Burgoo with Mashed Potatoes. Green Bean Casserole. Stack Cake. Supposing the girl can get the food, she’ll try these out. Visits Hal Barton, laid up with a gunshot wound. Reads to him, leaves him a magazine: True Detective. She’s got a copy of Huckleberry Finn for Jon McAllister. He’s read two other Twain books—wants more. Book Woman crosses a deer track winding up from the creek bed. Hears the soft whistle of a meadowlark, spies one perched on a twig, feathers ruffled by breeze. Visits Granny Smithers, gives her another reading lesson. Continues on. Pauses to watch a swirl of golden leaves fling themselves to the muddy earth. She stops by Margaret Alred’s cabin, reads bible passages to her. The old woman is half-blind and her cabin’s cold. She’s grateful for company. Book Woman rekindles the stove, shares a bite of cornbread, a sip of huckleberry tea. Must start back.

          Wind’s up. Clouds rolling in.
          The horse shakes its head, shivers.
          Eight miles to go.

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Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of four full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is Without Goodbyes: From Puritan Deerfield to Mohawk Kahnawake (Turning Point, 2021). Her chapbook, Under the Porch, won the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and she has earned numerous awards for individual poems. As publisher of her own press, Grayson Books, Connors has also edited a number of poetry anthologies, including Forgotten Women: A Tribute in Poetry. She is co-editor of Connecticut River Review.