Posts Tagged ‘Rheta Grimsley Johnson’

I don’t know Rheta Grimsley Johnson, but I’ve been reading her feature stories and columns for years in Southern newspapers. In fact, there was a time when I wanted to be Rheta Grimsley Johnson when I grew up. I was a feature writer at a small Southern daily, and I dearly loved finding “human interest” stories and then, as Johnson puts it, “the tough but gratifying challenge of stringing words and facts together in a pleasing way.”

Johnson and I are roughly the same age, of that generation whose first Barbies were the first Barbies — the pony-tailed, top-heavy, long-legged models who came with a strapless black-and-white striped bathing suit, but who had all sorts of glamorous outfits you could buy. In her engaging new memoir Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming, Johnson recounts the importance of Barbie to a growing girl back then, as well as other touchstones of her Southern childhood.

I can relate to a lot of it, from family trips in the station wagon to visit Southern Baptist relatives to the obsession with horses that resulted in a large collection of plastic ponies. She and her first husband actually owned and put out a weekly newspaper in the mid-1970s. It didn’t even last a year, but let let me tell you how many young journalism school grads had that dream and talked about it endlessly. So, yes, there’s a goodly dose of nostalgia for me in these pages, and you couldn’t ask for a better guide down memory lane than Johnson.

Still, Johnson’s life and its lessons are distinctly her own, and there’s pure pleasure to be had in following her down the unfamiliar roads as well. Originally she set out to write a book about Christmas, and then real life intervened, the way it does, and everything changed. That book didn’t get written, but this one did, and she loosely uses different Christmases to chart the heartline of her life and career over the years. 

And always, there’s the telling phrase and/or anecdote. A young nephew  is “the neatest little thing, to boot, like a self-cleaning oven.” The pressure of writing four columns a week for the Atlanta paper brings only a few hours of relief before “the hot whips of panic” ensue, as she worries about what to write next.

I’m not worried. Whatever Rheta Grimsley Johnson wants to write is fine with me. I’ll read it.

Open Book: Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming: A Memoir by Rheta Grimsley Johnson is published by NewSouth Books, which sent me a galley as soon as publisher Suzanne La Rosa found out I’d started writing again.

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Yes, you read that right. SIBA — the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance — has announced its pick of the winter/spring 2010 crop of books. Go to www. sibaweb.com to see the list. Congrats to all the authors involved. Several of these books were already on my radar — Connie May Fowler’s How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, a new collection of short stories from Ron Rash, journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s memoir Enchanted Evening Barbie and The Second Coming. The latter’s publisher, New South Books, already has sent me a galley.

But I also am now looking forward to the other tasty-sounding Southern-fried offerings. How ’bout Gullah Cuisine: By Land and Sea by Charlotte Jenkins and William Baldwin?! And my Sisters-in-Crime pal Patricia Sprinkle has a March novel, Hold Up the Sky.

I think I need a snack to tide me over. Maybe Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, which is already in stores.

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