Gilmore Weaves Compelling Tale of Small-Town Seamstresses in ‘The Funeral Dress’

Sep 17, 2013

Random House recently published a new novel from Southern author (and Chattanooga resident) Susan Gregg Gilmore. She won acclaim for her first two novels, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.   The Funeral Dress is inspired by real seamstresses who worked at a Dunlap shirt factory in the 1970s.

The Funeral Dress is a realistic, sometimes heartbreaking work of Southern literature—a story set primarily in the 1970s that centers on a young woman, Emmalee Bullard, who is trying to escape harsh poverty and her abusive, alcoholic father.

When Emmalee drops out of high school and gets a job in a shirt factory, she becomes part of a special community of wage-earning women who gossip, laugh and sometimes fight during their shifts sewing collars and shirts.

Some of the women work simply to have something to do; others are the main breadwinners for their families.  Emmalee, young and unmarried, works to support both herself and her newborn baby girl.  Emmalee finds unlikely friendship in Leona, an aloof, older seamstress.

Leona invites Emmalee to come live with her… Leona doesn’t have much, only a small mobile home with her husband, but she’s willing to share.  Emmalee’s situation looks brighter… until tragedy strikes…

Kirkus reviews says the book is “a revelatory novel that offers an evocative account of the lives of Appalachian working women,” and Booklist says “it’s a tender, graceful novel that addresses questions of class and social isolation.”  It’s also inspired an original song by Dove-winning singer Belinda Smith.

Susan Gregg Gilmore has a book signing coming up at the old Spartan Industries shirt factory on September 19, 2013, from 4-6pm CDT at the corner of Cedar & State Streets, Dunlap, TN.  More information is at the Friends of the Sequatchie County Public Library Web site.

Another book signing will happen at Enzo’s Market in Chattanooga on Monday, September 23rd from 5 – 7 p.m. EST.  Reservations are required by 9/21/13.