Owensboro Public Schools district literacy coach Amy Bellamy's "Waverly" has been chosen as the spring 2020 common reading book by Owensboro Community & Technical College.
The book is loosely based on the 1936 execution of Rainey Bethea, the last person to be publically hanged in the U.S. It's set in the fictional town of Waverly and follows a female sheriff who was appointed to the position after the death of her husband. She was a mother, a widow and on top of that, she finds herself overseeing the execution. Her novel isn't a history of the execution, but a retooling of the facts into more of a history-inspired murder mystery. It surrounds a young woman in 2006 who realizes that she has a family connection to those involved in Bellamy's account of the execution.
Bellamy, who previously taught seventh-grade language arts at Owensboro Middle School before becoming the district's literacy coach, said she is excited that OCTC chose it for the next common reading book. It also surprised her.
After much deliberation, she decided to submit the book to the common reading committee for consideration, but upon doing so she learned the book was already in the running for selection.
"I was really honored," she said.
Each semester OCTC chooses a common reading book to read as a campus, and then tailors programs around the selection. Bellamy will be speaking to some OCTC history and English classes about what it was like to plan and research the novel.
"Then on March 25 at 11 a.m. there will be a big presentation," she said. "It's a free event, and at that presentation, I'm planning on talking about the history about the book, the events that inspired the book. The story behind the story."
She also will be talking about some of the interesting things that have happened since the book was published. For example, she had the opportunity to meet the people who owned the house where the murder, for which Bethea was convicted, took place.
Kaye Brown, co-chair of OCTC common reading and English professor at the school, said she and other organizers try to alternate Kentucky authors and national authors when choosing books to be featured in the program. She enjoyed the book, and thinks it's particularly interesting considering it is based on something that happened in the not-so-distant past here in Owensboro.
Brown already plans to use the book with one of her lessons, in which she asked students to do some research on a family member they don't personally know who is deceased. She said Bellamy's research that went into the book will be valuable to students.
"She writes in the book about going to the library and looking up hard copy primary sources, and all of that is pretty fascinating," Brown said.
Brown said Bellamy created a "pretty compelling narrative" to get people thinking about a fascinating time in Owensboro's history, one that also put the city in the national spotlight.
"We are interested in that element of it," she said. "We hated to pass up on an opportunity to think about where we are really from."
Bobbie Hayse, email@example.com, 270-691-7315.