This is the third and final story in a series of quick profiles about people who will be featured at the third annual Book ‘Em North Carolina Writer’s Conference and Book Fair — editor.
LUMBERTON — She isn’t Gloria Steinem or Susan B. Anthony, but to countless women across the country, Haywood Smith, author of the “The Red Hat Club” and countless other best-selling books, could be considered an icon of modern women’s liberation — or at least her characters could.
On Saturday Smith will be discussing her long career within the publishing industry a the third annual Book ‘Em North Carolina Writer’s Conference and Book Fair at Robeson Community College. Smith will be among more than 70 authors, publishers and literary agents from across the country who will be selling and signing books as part of the event.
Smith, whose work has repeatedly been featured on the The New York Times’ best-seller list, began her career in writing in her 40s after a failed career in real estate.
“God didn’t want me to be in real estate …,” Smith said jokingly. “One day I said to my uncle, ‘What can I do? I can’t go back to real estate and I have arthritis so bad I can’t be a greeter at Walmart.’ He said, ‘If someone told you that you are going to die in two years, what would you do?’ and I just heard this voice in my head say ‘I would write a book and try to get it published.’”
After years honing her talents and sending her work to publishers, Smith was picked up by publisher St. Martin’s Press in 1996. Her first six books were exclusively romantic historical novels, though she says that having been married to the same man since high school, she had little experience to draw upon. Smith’s life took an unexpected turn in the early 2000s after her marriage fell apart and, according to Smith, she was left financially destitute.
“All these stories I was writing had these happy romantic endings, and now I found out my husband of 30 years was engaged to a stripper and spent all of our money. After that I switched to women’s fiction, to writing about empowered women,” Smith said. “Baby-boomer women were very under-serviced in the literary industry, so I wrote to my generation. Of course I wanted the books to be funny because I think humor is a powerful teaching tool.”
What Smith sought to teach with her books was a lesson of female empowerment and independence after 50. Since her divorce, Smith released “Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch,” “The Red Hat Club,” “The Red Hat Club Rides Again,” and most recently “Dangerous Gifts.”
The new perspective offered by her books was an immediate hit with readers. After first earning a place on The New York Times’ best-seller list, Smith said that she was inspired to write something specifically for her ex-husband — “A thank-you note.”
Book ‘Em North Carolina will run from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at RCC. The event is free and open to the public.