Born in Louisville, Kentucky into a journalism family, Emily early on decided she wanted to write. Among her grade-school efforts was a poem inspired by the typewriter her father gave her as a child, and on which he typed bedtime stories as he told them. The poem, “Typewriter,” weighed the options—poet, novelist, journalist. The opportunity to tell true stories and dig deeply into the past to shine a light on how we got here came much later later.
Emily is Visiting Honors Faculty Fellow at Bellarmine University. Her forthcoming work, Singing About Slavery: “My Old Kentucky Home” (Knopf) details the long history of Pittsburgh composer Stephen Foster’s 1853 blackface minstrel song. The sentimental favorite has played annually since 1930 as the horses parade to the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, “the fastest two minutes in sports.” Known across the globe, this sonic monument has been Kentucky’s official anthem for nearly a century. Bingham grew up with no idea that the song was about a slave sold down river from Kentucky to die in the Deep South. How and why she and almost everyone else “forgot” this basic truth, and how a song about slavery offered occasions for honor and celebration, trigger larger questions about Black pain white Americans have not heard. Singing About Slavery takes readers on a journey critical to understanding the nation’s past and its legacy for the present.
Bingham’s essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in Vogue, The Journal of Southern History, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and New England Review. Her books are Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham (2015), Mordecai: An Early American Family (2003), and, as editor with Thomas A. Underwood, The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal: Essays After I’ll Take My Stand (2001). She and her husband, Stephen Reily have three children.