You won’t find Oprah Winfrey or Kitty Kelley in the book “Women of True Grit,” co-authored by Edie Hand and Tina Savas. The absence is neither a reflection on Kelley, Winfrey, the book or its authors.
What you will find in “True Grit” is a remarkable group of 40 women, many of them pioneers in one arena of life or another.
Some are extremely well known, like Meredith Viera, the co-anchor of “The Today Show,” Phyllis Diller, one of America’s pioneering female comedians, or Joanne Carson, Johnny’s wife. Many are not household names, but should be: Justice Janie L. Shores, the first woman elected to a U.S. Appellate Court, Anne Tolstoi Wallach, the first woman to break the glass ceiling in the advertising world, Dr. Judy Kaminsky, psychologist, famed sex therapist and author of 12 books, Shirley R. Martz, the first female certified public accountant in North Dakota, retired Air Force General Wilma L. Vaught, the president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Martha Bolton, the first female staff writer for Bob Hope, and Anne Abernathy, the oldest woman athlete to ever compete in the Winter Olympics — as a bobsledder, no less.
You might see a theme here: the word “first” comes up a lot. These women had to endure ceilings, glass or otherwise, barriers, traditions, being as good and, more often than not, better in a man’s world.
The book includes a foreword by country singer Barbara Mandrell and a poem contributed by Dr. Maya Angelou, not to mention quotes from famous women, such as “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,” from Dolly Parton. And it’s all the result of a partnership between Hand and Savas, the founder of the Birmingham Business Journal and a number of other publications in Alabama. Savas’ newspaper legacies included running lists: the 50 Richest Women, the top 40 under 40 and so on.
But the book’s spirit can be found in a real woman of true grit. That would be Edie Hand, who’s written books on Elvis, inspirational books, hosted television cooking shows and has written and produced numerous other books, including novellas.
The grit? Hand has probably experienced more personal tragedy than any one person should have to handle in a lifetime, losing three younger brothers. She is also a three-time cancer survivor, having just experienced the last episode while working on this book. Naturally, she feels blessed.
Her voice is rangy Southern: you’ll find Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee there and a lot of enthusiasm, energy and drive. “I thought it was an ideal partnership,” she said of working with Savas. “She had the publication experience, the whole experience of putting great lists together. We could do another forty with no trouble at all.”
Somebody ought to do one on her, however. She’s a cousin of Elvis Presley, and remembers hearing him when she was 16. She’s seen trouble and tragedy, all of which has somehow infused her with more energy.
“We wanted to give the women we chose their voices, their words, their views,” she said. “We can learn so much from each other and one of the things I’ve learned is how unique these women are, how alive, how admirable … how brave. They’ve got courage.”
The book debuted with a special book signing at the Women’s Memorial in Washington this spring. It’s a book you can take to the beach and be inspired by.