Bucket list book highlights Alabama attractions


CW / Kinsley Centers

Kinsley Centers | @kinsleycenters, Staff Reporter

Mary Johns Wilson has lived in Alabama for a decade. In her new book, “100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die,” she showcases some of the state’s must-see places. 

While listening to jazz music in a coffee shop, Mary Johns Wilson began writing lists of things to do in Alabama. Now, the author is hosting book signings with her published work on display: “100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die.”

Wilson said it feels surreal to have published her first-ever book.

“It’s just really cool to know that there was something that I was passionate about and I’ve been able to achieve that professional goal of writing a book,” Wilson said.

Originally from Kentucky, Wilson later moved to Alabama and has lived here for 10 years.

Wilson is an inquisitive person who is eager to learn more. She believes there are always questions to be asked and stories to be told, and she bases this curiosity off of her journalism background. She is the director of news services with the Alabama Farmers Federation and co-host and reporter for Simply Southern TV.

“There’s great things to explore and discover along every road and in every small town and metropolitan area,” Wilson said.

In 2015 Wilson began working at the Alabama’s Farmers Federation, where they started a TV show about agriculture, gardening, tourism, restaurants and the people of Alabama.

“It’s a 30-minute TV show that goes all across the state,” Wilson said. “We visit different locations and we’re basically telling the good news about Alabama.”

This show has allowed Wilson to explore the state of Alabama, which created the foundation that led to her published book. 

“I’ve always lived in small towns, kind of rural areas, in states that on a national scale other people may not think are the best states to live in,” Wilson said. “I’ve lived in Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. But I really believe that they are absolutely great places to live and that there’s a lot to enjoy whether you’re in Wilcox County or Jefferson County.”

Wilson was encouraged by her sister, Audra Meighan, who once mentioned in a bookstore the idea of Wilson writing the book. Months went by, and one day Wilson realized how deep her desire to write this book was, so she contacted the publisher. Before she knew it, it was in the works.

“100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die” is sectioned by different categories, which include food and drink, music and entertainment, sports and recreation, culture and history, and unique attractions. They’re Wilson’s personal recommendations for what to do within the state. 

“I hope that when people read this book that they end up being surprised about things that are in Alabama that they didn’t realize were here — that they appreciate the depth of the history that we have in the state of Alabama, and just all of the interesting stories that they can soak in no matter where they are in the state,” Wilson said. “My hope is they gain a deeper love for the state of Alabama because it deserves it.”

Wilson wanted to get the book finished before Alabama’s bicentennial year was over. She said the book was a way to pay tribute to Alabama’s 200-year anniversary and encourage others to explore the state.

“It’s the first in the alphabet. It should be first in your heart,” Wilson said.

The book was a family affair.  Throughout the process Wilson’s husband, Matt, encouraged her. He wanted to help and be a part of the journey, so he, along with others, took photos for the book. Shortly after the book was completed, her sister, Meighan, began to write her book, which is in the making: “100 Things to do in Lexington.” It is expected to be released in the spring.

While reading bucket list books, it gives the author’s perspective of places to allow readers to differentiate on whether they would be interested in it. Meighan said they are different than having to read reviews online of places while planning a trip. Having this book available to others can be beneficial to tourists since some things are not available on the internet.

“It can be really overwhelming with the amount of information that is out there. These books are curated lists by people who have lived it,” Meighan said.

The sister authors encourage and inspire one another. While Meighan is in the process of writing her book, she calls Wilson her “book mentor.”

“I’m super proud of my sister,” Meighan said. “She’s amazing at everything she does.”

“100 Things To Do In Alabama Before You Die” covers attractions in 52 of the 67 counties, including Tuscaloosa. Some of the few local attractions listed are Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Bama Belle, the Kentuck Arts Festival and the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Mary Grace Keck, a senior majoring in psychology, is from Gadsden, Alabama. She said she has been to some of the places listed in the book. She is interested in reading the book so she can continue to explore the state in the areas she has not been. She wants to visit more of the northern and southern parts of the state.

“I think that if people from out of state were able to see how rich the history is here and how many other awesome things there are to do here, they would be really drawn to even visit and see what it’s like,” Keck said. 

Another Alabama native, AnnMarie Shields, a graduate student studying history and museum studies, enjoys traveling.

“I’ve grown up in Alabama, and there is still so much that I have yet to see, so that would be a really helpful thing to have on hand — to be able to adventure more and see new things,” Shields said.

Wilson’s book is available on various online platforms, as well as in-store signed copies at Barnes & Noble.

The book is available at:




Signed copies are available at Barnes & Noble.

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100 Things To Do In Alabama