ry day, bloggers publish stories that resonate with small, tightknit communities of readers. Then there are those posts that hit a nerve and are shared far and wide. Amy Rawe’s “An Open Apology to Dolly Parton” was definitely the latter: Amy clicked the “Publish” button last Thursday, and in four short days almost 2,500,000 visitors have read her post.
We chatted with Amy over the weekend about the post’s wide reach, the responses it has generated, and how this viral success relates to the broader context of her writing on her blog, Rawe-struck.
How did the idea to write your open letter to Dolly Parton come about?
I felt that after the divisiveness of the US election and the tragedy of the East Tennessee wildfires, I wanted to start speaking out more about acts of kindness and ways that our communities can come together. I’d been watching the news about the fires, which were swift and horrendous — claiming 14 lives and destroying countless homes and businesses — and saw that Dolly Parton had launched the My People fund. Her generosity in this region is legendary, and my daughter and I had personally benefitted from her amazing Imagination Library program. I couldn’t begin to cover everything she does for people in our region and well beyond, so I focused on what I knew about personally.
The apology format came about because I feel, overall, our society needs more apologies, and more willingness to admit when we’re wrong about someone. Our country is so divided, and mindsets seem so firm about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s good and who’s bad. I felt I needed to start with myself to challenge any set beliefs I have about people or situations, and this post seemed like an honest way to do that, while offering people a way to join her gracious efforts with the My People fund.
I post when I think it’s relevant to what’s going on in the world, or if I think something I’ve written might resonate with just one other person.
Is this post in line with your “normal” blogging style?
I’d hesitate to call myself a “blogger” yet, because I haven’t done it diligently. I know the key to reaching a following is to post consistently and to build a base of readers over time. However, I write because I enjoy it and the process helps me make sense of things. I post when I think it’s relevant to what’s going on in the world, or if I think something I’ve written might resonate with just one other person.
I have a day job, and am a single mom to a spirited daughter who keeps me happily on my toes. I write when I feel compelled to make the time, which I did in this case. I have a phenomenal tribe of writing friends who I met in an online course in 2012. Several of us have stayed in touch through a private Facebook page, and encourage one another to write and take risks. I rely on that kind of support and accountability.
How did you promote your post, and when did you first realize it was going (very, very) viral?
I posted it to my blog. One of my friends who follows my blog asked me to post it on Facebook so she could share it. As with my blog, I post to Facebook sporadically, and am in no way savvy about its potential. I had no idea this post would go viral, and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what qualified as “viral.”
I posted it around noon on December 8 and didn’t think much about it. I choose not to have email or Facebook notifications turned on on my phone, so it wasn’t until I got home later that evening and checked my email that I realized what was happening. My inbox was filled with hundreds of notifications and comments from Facebook and WordPress.com, and they kept coming in faster than I could open them. I felt a bit like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
How has the response to your essay been so far? What kinds of reactions do you see the most?
I haven’t had a chance to read each comment yet, but I will and know that there are many I’d like to respond to. Overall, though, it seems that the post either struck a chord of harmony with people, or hit a painful nerve.
I keep going back to my decision to tell my truth, and to speak out more about inspirational stories of people lifting each other up. Now more than ever, this blog is the perfect platform to do that.
The majority of responses I’ve seen have been positive. People have shared similar sentiments and appreciated my apology, and many have responded with more stories about Dolly Parton’s history and her kindness. Several people know of other charitable programs she supports, and others know of quiet, selfless ways she’s given to help people who were in dire straits. One Facebook commenter called her the “Patron Saint of the South,” which I love. While people in East Tennessee are well aware of Dolly’s selflessness, many have said they didn’t know this side of her and as a result found the post inspiring. That’s been wonderful, especially if it spreads the word about how loving she is, and possibly helps the My People fund or Imagination Library.
On the other hand, the post sparked emotions about gender, class, regional stereotypes, and politics. There are quite a few who are critical of me personally — saying I’m a “typical” pretentious Northern snob looking down on Southerners, or that I wrote this to ride the coattails of the wildfire and Dolly Parton for my 15 minutes of fame. That message stung the most, since my intention was to humbly apologize for my earlier short-sightedness and express gratitude for the huge difference Dolly Parton makes in this world. Everyone has a right to their opinion, though, and I haven’t read all the comments. At this point I’ve only “marked as spam” one comment that called me something offensively inappropriate.
With this post still attracting thousands of readers, what do you plan next for your blog?
I’m a fairly private person, and I struggle with how much to put out there about my life, and am especially protective of my daughter. I don’t like a lot of attention, and my shoulders aren’t big enough to carry the cultural divides that are reflected in some of the responses to this post. However, I keep going back to my decision to tell my truth, and to speak out more about inspirational stories of people lifting each other up. Now more than ever, this blog is the perfect platform to do that.
I believe we’re at a tipping point, and have the choice to either invite dialogue or fuel discord. One of my earlier posts was of a bumper sticker that said “Love > Fear.” I will continue to choose dialogue and love, and will be writing more regularly about these matters.