Paste: Another thing I really admire about your business ventures is the way they revolve around and work within Sevier County. What is it like to be connected to your hometown, and do you feel like you’re still able to be a part of the community?
Parton: It’s always great to feel like a hometown hero, and I take great pride in the fact that they’re proud of me. But they’re no more proud of me than I am of them, and of the Great Smokey Mountains in general. We’ve got the most visited national park in the United States! I just happened to be born up there in the foothills of the Great Smokies. I knew it was a good place to do business, so I thought very early on in my career that if I made it, I was going to invest and do some business things [in Sevier County, Tennessee]. I also wanted them to have things that would provide jobs for a lot of people there—my neighbors, and my friends, and a lot of my family. So we do have several businesses in East Tennessee that I’m proud of—we have Dixie Stampede, our dinner theater out on the parkway. Also, we just opened a new one called Lumberjack Adventure. We have Dollywood and Dollywood Splash Country, and we’re always looking for new things. It’s a really good thing for the local people. It’s good for the tourists who come visit, but it’s good for the locals, because it provides a lot of jobs for a lot of people.
Paste: You do plenty of outright philanthropy, too. Dolly’s Imagination Library has gotten enormous.
Parton: I’m very proud of that. Those are some of my proudest times, is when I hear all of the things going on with the Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation. We give books to children from the time they’re born until they start school, once a month they get a book, so they can learn to read and be self-educated—get a good start in life. We’ve given away almost a million books since we started that. It started in my hometown, just for the folks locally because my dad didn’t get an education, and he was very helpful to me in getting that started. I wanted to do something to honor him, and he was very proud of that. The fact that we started that in our hometown, and now we’re all over the world…. We’re just going to continue to put them books in the hands of children!
Now we have a new book, it’s an illustrated book of the story, “The Coat of Many Colors,” that’s coming out in October, and all proceeds go to the Imagination Library. I also have a children’s album that I’ve recorded that’s coming out sometime, and all that money will go to the Imagination Library as well.