The member diversity in the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) makes our goal of connecting, educating, advocating, and leading possible. As bookwomen, we believe “Books Have Power.” The Bookwoman welcomes Paula Watts (WNBA-Nashville) to the “Power Behind the WNBA” interview series!
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Paula Watts, a member of the Nashville chapter. I moved to Nashville from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two years ago, shortly after my retirement, to be nearer to my children and grandchildren.
Early in my career, I worked in the LSU library, then I became a high school librarian and English teacher. I was privileged to work with a team of educators as part of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to create small learning communities for students to enhance their literacy, math, and science skills.
Here in Nashville, I’m involved with Project Transformation, which promotes literacy through summer workshops for elementary children. I’m also a member of the Nashville Area Philanthropic Educational Organization and work with a scholarship program for young girls graduating high school.
Why did you join WNBA?
A friend, whose enthusiasm for the chapter’s programming was very motivating to someone new to the area, introduced me to the WNBA-Nashville. The WNBA helped me find a community of like-minded friends and interesting local personalities. It has helped my transition by connecting me to activities similar to those I enjoyed in Louisiana, such as the Southern Festival of Books and Meet the Authors panel discussions.
I suggest that anyone new to Nashville or newly retired from a professional career join the WNBA as a way to keep abreast of current trends in publishing and to network with a group of fun people.
What value does the promotion of books bring to your community?
I first realized the value of promoting books in my community when Baton Rouge began participating in the program One Book, One Community, a nation-wide program where states or cities choose one book for the community to read.
In Baton Rouge, small groups met throughout the city to hold book discussions. These discussions led to community events, giving participants a chance to strike up conversations with people they would likely not otherwise meet. The public library even provided free books to students who participated. One Book, One Community became the common thread that bound people together, transcending politics, economic status, or religion, while connecting several generations and raising money to improve library services.
One of the program’s first books was Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent. Others included To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly.
And I broadened my sense of community to a national level by reading When Books Went to War by Molly Manning. I learned that during WWII, in an effort to promote leisure reading as a way to deal with loneliness and emotional turmoil, librarians across the US worked together to send books to soldiers serving overseas.
What book has had a lasting impact on you?
When asked about having read a life-changing book, I was stunned to realize that I had never truly considered any single book to have changed my life. Books, in general, changed my life by being vehicles of leisurely escape in my personal life as well as sources of learning in my professional one.
But, as a child growing up in a small town, I remember discovering Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field at my local library and being fascinated by the story of this doll traveling the world as it was passed along to many different owners. The historical fiction I first encountered in Hitty’s story is still my favorite leisure reading and a catalyst for my continuing research into events and places.
Interview compiled by assistant editor Pam Ebel (WNBA-New Orleans).