5 questions with author Emily Bingham
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - For years, the Bingham family was one of Kentucky's most well-known and richest families. Barry Bingham, Jr. was the third and last generation of the influential family that owned media properties including The Courier-Journal, the Louisville Times newspapers, WHAS Radio and WHAS Television before selling them. One of his children is Emily Bingham, who has made her own name as an author.
She recently won the Samuel W. Thomas Louisville History Book Award for her book Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham. It's about Emily's great aunt, one she never met in person but heard much about. Henrietta Bingham was offered the helm of the publishing empire, but instead in New York, Louisville, and London, her love affairs with men and women became a source of embarrassment for the family. Doctors even tried to cure her attraction to women.
Here are my five questions with Emily Bingham.
1) Congrats on winning the Samuel W. Thomas Louisville History Book Award. What does this award mean to you?
Sam Thomas' career in local history spanned decades. He began his work in local archives and records and my grandfather, Barry Bingham, Sr., asked him to head the Louisville Courier-Journal's book division, which published nine books under his direction. The amount of research he did on neighborhoods, families, businesses and architecture provide a foundation for anyone pursuing a topic involving Louisville history. I was fortunate to know Sam personally and leaned on him at numerous points during the Irrepressible project. He even came to the rescue with photocopies from his files of letters to Henrietta Bingham from her father, the originals of which had disappeared. Sam's amazing archive is housed at the University of Louisville and is open to the public. It will be used for centuries to help Louisville understand its past and how it got where it is, so being given this award is an amazing honor.
2) Your book is about your great aunt who sadly became an embarrassment to your family. Were you worried about what you would uncover as you did the research?
My father's initial response to my interest in his aunt was quite negative. He had witnessed some very upsetting scenes in her later years. And my grandmother had sharp views about her sister-in-law, as well, which she shared during an oral history I conducted with her years before I ever considered writing about this family member. So what was more surprising in my research was the depth of evidence for the way she was adored -- how devastatingly charming and unforgettably appealing she was to an array of men and women, many of them famous artists, writers, athletes and actors. They expected greatness from her, while inner demons and homophobia ultimately dimmed her star.
3) You grew up in a journalism family. As the mother of three children, how do you influence your own kids to read?
Going to the public library, the school library and reading aloud have been the main ways. They always loved the summer reading challenges held by LFPL (free mini Frosty from Wendy's!). I also believe having the newspaper in front of us at breakfast has helped them "see" news that is less visible in its digital form.
4) What's your next project?
A biography of the 1853 Stephen Foster song "My Old Kentucky Home." It is not well known that it was conceived as an anti-slavery song written from the point of view of a slave being sold away from his family in Kentucky to die "in the land where the sugar cane grows."
5) What books do you have on your nightstand now?
A teetering pile. But at the top are Nana Lampton's Wash the Dust from My Eyes, What Belongs to You by fellow Louisville native and Farrar, Straus and Giroux author, Garth Greenwell and E. H. Gombrich's The Story of Art (pocket edition).
Bingham's book will be available at Carmichael's, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
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