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Praise for Poor Man’s Provence

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[Poor Man’s Provence] is a bright and breezy memoir sure to entrance natives and tourists alike.
Johnson provides satisfyingly light entertainment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recently, Grimsley says two of her Henderson friends have started trying to teach her some Cajun cooking. Helen Boudreaux, 69, is one of them. Boudreaux lives in Butte La Rose and is a musician and traiteur. She's already read Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana and is impressed. "It's wonderful. I've read it, and I mean to read it again because it's all about us. It's very true. It's very Cajun," Boudreaux says. "It's wonderful she spent so much time here to learn us our ways, our culture. It's about us. Everyone here should have one. It's about us today and tomorrow --from the junk cars, to the happiness, to the sadness, everything." Boudreaux says future generations will be able to use Grimsley's book as an accurate time capsule reflecting how life was for Cajuns in these times.
True to her unblinking commentaries, Johnson sees the area and its people with an eye that penetrates deeper the usual newcomer.
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.
When you write a book about the place where you live, you almost inevitably rub some folks the wrong way. That’s not been the case for Rheta Grimsley Johnson, at least so far. “I talked to everybody I wrote about,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “Nobody has taken issue, even Mr. Doug — Big Ears. Most everybody has loved the attention.” That’s partly a testament to Johnson’s skill as a writer, partly an affirmation of her affection for the Cajuns she writes about and partly proof of the tolerant nature of her subjects.
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.
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!
Of the town, Johnson said Henderson is not the prettiest town in the area, compared to gorgeous communities like St. Martinville and Lafayette. In "plain little Henderson," personality trumps beauty because Henderson remains the most purely Cajun of the 22 parishes considered Cajun. "What I love most about Henderson is the people there still make their living directly from the swamp," she said. "They work at the catfish plant, or they're shrimpers or repair outboard motors. There's a direct link to nature. It takes me back to my childhood, reminds me of what's important. They put family above everything else."
Johnson's favorite writer is Raymond Chandler, but her hero, I suspect, is Chandler's hard-boiled detective, Philip Marlowe, a knight in the decadent world of Southern California. In Johnson's world, 2,500 miles and 70 years away, the columnist is also a knight, bound by a code of honor to treat both subjects and readers fairly and honestly, to travel any distance in all kinds of weather to meet them on their own turf, to avoid clichés and well-worn paths, to meet all deadlines, and to do it year after year for 20 years. Pretty amazing.
[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.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is no stranger to the South. The Coquitt, GA., native resided in Montgmery, graduated from Auburn and spent 14 years as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She still shares stories from the South with readers through her nationally-syndicated column. But Southwest Louisiana isn't like the rest of the South, not really. And in Poor Man's Provence, Johnson leads readers in this unique part of the country. It's a land she's come to love, even if she'll never truly be one of its own. Johnson isn't blind to her adopted home's faults; she writes freely about the garbage in Henderson and people's first impressions of the town. But tales of its people are heart-warming. Her friend Johnelle "makes friends faster than I can tie my shoe." Johnson and a group of neighborhood children form the "Tool Shed Reading Club" in the book's most charming chapter. She started as an outsider, certainly, but 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.