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Poor Man's Provence
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About the Author

Rheta Grimsley Johnson has covered the South for over three decades as a newspaper reporter and columnist. She writes about ordinary but fascinating people, mining for universal meaning in individual stories. In past reporting for United Press International, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and a number of other regional newspapers, Johnson has won national awards. They include the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award for human interest reporting (1983), the Headliner Award for commentary (1985), the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Distinguished Writing Award for commentary (1982). In 1986 she was inducted into the Scripps Howard Newspapers Editorial Hall of Fame. In 1991 Johnson was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Syndicated today by King Features of New York, Johnson's column appears in about 50 papers nationwide. She is the author of several books, including America's Faces (1987) and Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz (1989). In 2000 she wrote the text for a book of photographs entitled Georgia. A native of Colquitt, Ga., Johnson grew up in Montgomery, Ala., studied journalism at Auburn University and has lived and worked in the South all of her career. In December 2010, Johnson married retired Auburn University history professor Hines Hall.

Reviews

"Rheta Grimsley Johnson is that big-hearted woman of country music. In telling about her adopted people of Cajun-Country, Louisiana, she lets slip a bit about herself: Rheta Grimsley Johnson, friend to the common-man. Never a tourist, sometimes a traveler, she scouts out places with heart to settle for a spell. In Poor Man's Provence, Johnson settles in Henderson, Louisiana, to highlight the lives of ordinary people about the business of simply living. Her magic pen turns French-Cajun names into song; and, as always, Rheta Grimsley Johnson pays tribute to undiscovered regional artists at moments of self-discovery--who needs Hollywood when you have Henderson? In Rheta Johnson's eyes, everybody's beautiful, except for those who think they are." --Janice Daugharty
"Poor Man's Provence is what results when one beloved national treasure decides to infiltrate and write about another beloved national treasure, Louisiana's Cajuns. Johnson gives us an insider tour of an outsider culture, and it's as dead-on as Levi-Strauss and as funny as Mark Twain. As the Cajuns would put it, you need dis book, you." --Cynthia Shearer, author of The Celestial Jukebox
"Talk about love at first sight. After chasing stories all over America for three decades, syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson was caught up short when she fell for a gawky little one-room boat for sale in the vast Atchafalaya Swamp of Louisiana. She heard a Cajun voice say, "You need dat boat, you," and when she bought it her life was transformed. This is her love song to the Cajun Nation." --Paul Hemphill, author of Hank Williams and Leaving Birmingham
"For everyone who watched Passion Fish the second time for the music and scenery, Johnson has invited us to a real feast--a chronicle from inside the spicy sweet heart of Cajun country. The only bad thing about this wonderful memoir is that it is sure to bring tourists." --Mary Hood, author of Familiar Heat and And Venus is Blue
"Rheta Grimsley Johnson first went to Louisiana about the time I was getting to know the place. Our paths never crossed until decades later when we both found ourselves in Atlanta. Now she has gone back, and she's taken me with her in Poor Man's Provence, the most evocative rendering of Acadiana I know. I close my eyes and am at the crawfish festival in Breaux Bridge again, every care behind me, a plate of shimp etouffe and all the time in the world before me." --Michael Skube
"In her memoir, Poor Man's Provence, veteran journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson gets it right. She finds the heart that draws her back to this quirky paradise with its every beat. Not far from Lafayette, Johnson is introduced to the kind of people who are salt of the earth despite their idiosyncratic personalities." --First Draft
"Poor Man's Provence might make a great gift for yourself and someone who's not "from around here." It's an easy read and a fun book." --Reba McMellon, M. S., LPC, The Mississippi Press
"Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana is Grimsley Johnson at her very best, conveying her own love of one small Louisiana town, and introducing us to its inhabitants and idiosyncrasies." --Leslie Criss, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
"The longtime newspaper columnist, who lives in Iuka, writes with charm and candor of her second home in Henderson, La. The spicy warmth of Cajun culture comes through in these stories of people and places and the personal spaces they touch." --The Clarion-Ledger
"...Rheta paints word portraits of the inhabitants that make you want to sit down with all of them over a plate of crawfish. As ever, she calls it as she sees it, but what she sees is the honesty of the people and the land." --Vince Vawter, Knoxville News Sentinel
"She's been everywhere, interviewed everybody, written thousands of pieces ... and now, she's written a book. Oh, it's not her first one (she wrote one, for example, about Charles Schultz of "Peanuts"), but it is a particularly lovely book. What a writer. We've always known that. She makes us hack scribblers want to stomp on the word processor and never write another word." --Bob Sanders, Opelika-Auburn News
"Johnson, 54, has written a memoir of her new life, Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana that teems with critters, characters and lessons from the road less taken." --Jim Auchmutey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"The chapters of Poor Man's Provence are organized by topic: Cajun family life and food, Acadian celebrations, and, most of all, wonderfully odd characters." --Don Noble, Tuscaloosa News
"Poor Man's Provence is a rich examination of a colorful, cultural state. We know it, but it's nice to read that someone good with a pen thinks so too." --Chere Coen, The Daily Advertiser
"...future generations will be able to use Grimsley's book as an accurate time capsule reflecting how life was for Cajuns in these times." --The Times of Adadiana
"True to her unblinking commentaries, Johnson sees the area and its people with an eye that penetrates deeper the usual newcomer." --Herman Fuselier, The Daily Advertiser
"Johnson is not the first person to take the geographic cure and find solace in an exotic location, although Henderson is not quite Provence (the title is a reference to the hit book A Year in Provence). The difference between Johnson and other nomads is that she has the keen perspective and fine writing skills to bring her insights to the page. She's not just a rolling stone either. She still has her place in Henderson and still lives there part of the time. Her abiding love of the people and place shine through in her writing. Louisiana's bruised image could use more healing like Johnson's book provides." --Greg Langley, The Baton Rouge Advocate
"Award-winning writer Rheta Grimsley Johnson has traveled and covered the south for more than three decades and was a 1991 Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary -- but it was an assignment to cover boar hunting in Louisiana that truly changed her life. Johnson fell in love with local culture and bought a second home in Henderson, intent on fully experiencing Acadiana traditions and rhythms. She chronicles that quest in Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana, her new book that reads like part travelogue and part memoir. While locals may not find any major revelations in the book, Johnson's clear prose and the presence of multiple landmarks and personalities make it an engaging read." --Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette Louisiana
"It's a book that is both a personal odyssey and good reporting, travelogue and memoir, funny and frank. Its setting is as exotic as it gets without a passport!" --Valley Times-News
"[Poor Man's Provence is] a refreshing study of all things Cajun, or at least all things Cajun that can be observed and absorbed by a fascinated reporter of Southern life. Given Johnson's easy raconteur's style, it will have readers stopping to read aloud." --The Anniston Star
"Johnson writes about Cajun country and people with such admiration and affection that it's near impossible not to fall in love with them yourself." --Birmingham Magazine
"Johnson's experiences, good and bad, transformed her. Alas, in the decade since she and her husband bought the houseboat, the landscape she fell in love with has undergone radical change as well, and not for the better. In a thoughtful coda, Johnson lists the usual culprits -- big box stores, tract mansions, widened highways and thousands of outsiders. Yet she concludes on a hopeful note, asserting that the natives remain as devoted to their friends, family and distinctive culture as ever. "Poor Man's Provence" details this devotion in thoroughly engaging fashion." --John Sledge, Mobile Press-Register
"It's fun to watch someone fall under the spell of a place. As Atlanta journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson chronicles her love affair with Louisiana in "Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana," local readers no doubt will remember what drew them here, too, what made them put down roots, stay put, hang on. Who doesn't want to share their love of home? Here's wishing Rheta Grimsley Johnson lots more Cajun stories to come. Her story, that time-honored account of finding -- and making -- a home, is a sweet celebration of our heartland." --Susan Larson, The Times-Picayune
"Distinctive about Rheta's writing is her sense of humility and respect for her subjects. With the lightest touch, she informs, challenges and takes us somewhere new." --The Commercial Dispatch
"In her latest book, Poor Man's Provence, Johnson writes of Henderson, her "other home" when not in Iuka, Mississippi. Part history lesson, part travel piece, a memoir and a personal odyssey, the book contains vivid essays on the Acadian people, their culture, music, food, and "joie de vivre" (joy of living). More than anything though, the book is a love story. Not puppy love with its tentative sideways glances, or the raw physical attraction of lust, but real love--the kind that starts with curiosity and intrigue and slowly blossoms into an enduring passion and emotional connection." --Valley Planet
"[Poor Man's Provence] is a bright and breezy memoir sure to entrance natives and tourists alike." --Acadian LifeStyle
"Johnson provides satisfyingly light entertainment." --Praire Schooner
"According to newspaper columnist Johnson, life in Cajun Country, deep in the heart of Southeast Louisiana, is "the opposite of live and let live; it's more like mind my business and I'll mind yours." In this largely winning read, Johnson does exactly that with the residents of her adopted, beloved Bayou home, Henderson, La. Her distinct perspective, that of an accepted neighbor who's still considered an outsider, drives this observational memoir." --Publishers Weekly

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