Richard Dwayne Parker

Paducah’s literary historian

Richard Dwayne Parker grew up in Paris, Tennessee, but he is now proud to call Paducah, his home. He has a new baby and has just published a new book - The Wild World of the Jackson Purchase. iMeet this local man who loves our area so much that he decided to write about it.

Welcome to iMeet, Richard. We love talking to our local celebrities and being a published author fits the bill. Tell us a little about yourself…

I was born in Murray, but grew up in Paris, Tennessee.  I attended college at Murray State University and studied history. My wife and I moved to Louisville to student teach and eventually landed jobs in Florence, near Cincinnati. After three years of teaching we decided to move back to Paducah.  My wife is originally from Paducah and my mother’s side of the family is too, so it was an easy transition.  

Tell us about your family...

My wife Emily and I live on Jefferson Street in a home built in the 1880s. In July, we had our first child - a boy, we called Ellis. We also have two cats, Carl and Simon. We love living on Jefferson Street because we can walk around the neighborhood with Ellis and go eat at the local restaurants.

Tell us about your book The Wild World of the Jackson Purchase...

The Wild World of the Jackson Purchase is the first comprehensive history of the Jackson Purchase. The book features an introduction by my good friend and acclaimed musician Nathan Blake Lynn. Nathan is the Special Collections Librarian at the McCracken County Library and was a huge help in finding and suggesting sources for the book. 

The book features over 100 stories and over 50 color photographs, many of which have never been published before. It also includes eleven original illustrations of various historical figures I created for the book. 

Why did you decide to write it?

Living in Louisville and northern Kentucky made me realize just how little people knew about our side of Kentucky. I was writing articles for the Jackson Purchase Historical Society Journal and thought I should write a book with short stories, so people could learn more about the Jackson Purchase. 

How long did you spend researching your topics?

I spent a little over three years researching and finding pictures for the book. 

What were some of the most interesting stories you researched?

One of the most interesting stories I found is about Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard. Howard was an early civil rights leader from Murray. He was instrumental in the Emmet Till murder trial, setting his home up as a command center. After the trial, he gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama that Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended. He also toured the country at various Civil Rights events and even spoke in Washington, D.C. with Eleanor Roosevelt. 

What have you been up to before writing the book? 

Before I started writing the book, I taught social studies in a public high school and also played in a folk band. 

Were you always a history junkie or is it something that developed over time? 

I have always had a love of history. On our family vacations, my dad would take us to museums or civil war battlefields, so I have long been exposed to history. 

What’s a typical day life for you?

I work as a teacher for the Forest Service at the Golconda Job Corps in Golconda, Illinois. I teach disadvantaged youth from Southside Chicago and East St. Louis. I typically have up to twelve students in my classroom working towards a high school diploma or a GED. Most of my day is spent helping them with reading, history, and math. I am also a trained wildland firefighter, so occasionally I work for the Shawnee National Forest helping with their prescribed burns.  

What's in store for you next? Plans for future books?

I am working on another book about the Buckskin Bill’s Wild West Show that was based out of Paducah. The show was locally owned and traveled the nation for three seasons before it was renamed the Cole Younger and Frank James Wild West Show. Younger and James were put of the famous Jesse James gang so this was a second career for them. I am excited to get the ball rolling on my second book and watching my son grow!

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to spend time with my family, work on our house, as well as playing guitar and banjo.

I know you wanted to release the book in time for the 200th anniversary of the Jackson Purchase...will you be speaking at any events? 

I am speaking at the Benton County Library, March 10 at 10:30. The event is free and is sponsored by the Jackson Purchase Historical Society. I also have two upcoming events in Paducah at the Paducah Lion’s club and the McCracken County Historical Society. I am planning to be in my hometown of Paris, Tennessee at Perrylodgic Brewery later this month for a book signing. 

As an author, who is your favorite author and why?

I like a lot of authors but I would have to say my favorite has always been Joseph Ellis. Ellis writes books on the American Revolution and they are engaging and well written. Initially, I was burned out on the American Revolution, but after reading my first Joseph Ellis book I had to read more. 

Thanks for telling us about your new book and letting us get to know you on iMeet, Richard. We hope your book, and the next ones you write, are all a big success.