A while ago, I was assigned a story for 225 that included interviewing an author by telephone. I’d read her book and really enjoyed it and was very nervous at first (she’s a journalist! syndicated!), but she was so warm and genuine that I quickly felt like I was talking to an old friend. It was a wonderful conversation and yielded QUITE a lot more than I needed for my short piece. I also found out that the piece was going to run in the magazine after her appearance in Baton Rouge, so I asked my editor if I could do a companion piece here to encourage folks to read her book and go to the author event at which she’ll appear.
So, the deets.
The book is called Poor Man’s Provence and its author’s name is Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Her book was selected as Baton Rouge’s fall One Book One Community selection. This is a great program where community partners encourage all of Baton Rouge to read the same book twice a year and provides tools and events for community dialogue. I encourage all of you, whether you live in Baton Rouge or not, to read this book, which is about Rheta’s experience of being more than a tourist but not quite a local of Henderson, Louisiana, deep in Cajun Country. The book has very short, engaging chapters and is a very fast, fascinating read, no matter how much you know about Henderson or Cajun culture.
One of the things that Rheta said that struck me most deeply, but I wasn’t able to work into the 225 piece was, “In the south, there’s no need for fiction. The truth is so rich.” As a fiction writer, I chose to see this as hyperbole, but it also strikes me as utterly true. No matter how strange our fiction is, it never can quite compare to the truth of the idiosyncratic way of life around us and the best novelists, in my opinion, write unbearably true things about people that just happened to not exist completely before they wrote about them.
Rheta’s voice vibrated with passion whenever she spoke with me about Henderson and the friends she made there and she writes that way about them, as well. It’s easy to feel like you’ve made a whole batch of new friends as you’re reading.
After you’ve read the book, go see Rheta speak August 20th at 7 p.m. at the Cox Communications Building on the LSU campus. When I asked if any of the “characters” (in more ways than one) would attend the event with her, she said she’d ask them if they’d like to. Regardless, Rheta will be there and so will many readers ready to discuss this incredible book. Good times will be had.