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Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana


For over a decade, syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson has been spending several months a year in southwest Louisiana, deep in the heart of Cajun country. Rheta fell in love with the place, bought a second home, and set in planting doomed azaleas and deep roots. She has found an assortment of beautiful people right on the edge of the Atchafalaya Swamp.

These days, much is labeled Cajun that is not, and the popularity of the unique culture's food, songs, and dance has ...

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Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana

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For over a decade, syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson has been spending several months a year in southwest Louisiana, deep in the heart of Cajun country. Rheta fell in love with the place, bought a second home, and set in planting doomed azaleas and deep roots. She has found an assortment of beautiful people right on the edge of the Atchafalaya Swamp.

These days, much is labeled Cajun that is not, and the popularity of the unique culture's food, songs, and dance has been a mixed blessing. Poor Man's Provence helps define what's what through lively characters and stories. The book is both a personal odyssey and good reporting, a travelogue and a memoir, funny and frank.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Travel readers will enjoy chucklesome details-a town with about five surnames, Henderson's phone book "is the only one... I know of to use nicknames in its listings"-but Johnson's news background proves both blessing and curse. On one hand, she's a fearless reporter, but her profiles too often cut short just when they're getting good. She touches on the poverty, racism and other troubles (like hurricanes), but doesn't probe in much depth, effectively reducing some of her friends and neighbors to two-dimensional ciphers. Where she does achieve a more nuanced portrait, readers will find a wonderful, personal look into a Cajun community.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Judith McKibbin
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.
Greg Langley
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.
Herman Fuselier
True to her unblinking commentaries, Johnson sees the area and its people with an eye that penetrates deeper the usual newcomer.
John Branston
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 cliches and well-worn paths, to meet all deadlines, and to do it year after year for 20 years. Pretty amazing.
Scott Jordan
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588382184
  • Publisher: NewSouth, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/2008
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,393,365
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet 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. She was married to the late journalism professor Don Grierson.
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Table of Contents

Blood, Guts, and a Bill     21
A Queen Fit for a Boat     25
Fried Turkey, Stewed Cajuns     36
Catahoula Cajun Truck-Driving Mama     43
Big Ears and Alligators     52
Hot French Bread When Flashing     63
Putting Down Roots     70
A Good Time Was Not Had by All     83
The Tool Shed Reading Club     93
Plate Lunches by the Pound, Heartaches by the Score     103
Saint Jeanette and the Simple Life     115
Hollywood Might Need Cajun Louisiana, but Cajun Louisiana Doesn't Need Hollywood     121
Staying Warm     124
Angola Bound     129
Knife Cocker of the Year     135
Doesn't Travel Well     141
Courir de Mardi Gras     147
Old Trash Pile Road     157
Rue de Putt-Putt     165
My Mabel     170
Harry, the Doughnut Bomber     180
The Retiring Romeros     185
Stormy Weather     192
Fit to Govern     200
Personal Notes     209
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book works best as a memoir and the author's recounting of her personal experiences in Henderson, LA. However, the book falls flat when the author tries to analyze Cajun culture. As a Cajun and a graduate student doing my disseration on Cajun culture, I found some of her assertations quite offensive and ignorant. For example, she states how the cajun 'are a shy people' and they don't open up unless they know your intentions. What? Is she Dian Fossey and we are gorillas in the mist? The Cajuns I know are not at all shy and go out of their way to include 'outsiders'. That is just one example of many in which I feel the author opened her mouth and inserted her foot. Also, she tends to generalize Cajuns and assumes that Cajuns in one area are the same. However, what is true for prairie Cajuns isn't necessarily true for Coastal Cajuns or Mississippi River Cajuns. I really wish she would have just kept to her personal experiences rather than try to pretend to be an anthropologist. Due to her poor sentence structure I even find it hard to believe she was even a journalist. Above all I did enjoy the book, yet her stereotyping and generalizations made for a quite uncomfortable read at times.

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