Former nationally-syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley- Johnson headlines Moulton’s Reading in the Garden

Well-known and much-loved columnist, nationally read Rheta Grimsley-Johnson will be the guest speaker at this years Reading in The Garden. Tickets are on sale at the Lawrence County Library. 

This year Moulton’s Reading in the Garden has expanded from an afternoon in a garden to a fun-filled three-day event, taking place in various interesting spots around town.

The much anticipated event begins on October 22, at Ravenwood, the lovingly restored log lodge belonging to Duane and Alice Evans who have graciously opened their home to benefit the local library. This beautiful retreat is nestled in the foothills of the Bankhead National Forest, directions come with ticket.

According to Vickie Lundy, vice-president of the Friends of the Lawrence County Public Library, the 2019 Reading in the Garden is a three-day event and she says, “for bibliophiles it’s Nirvana.”

The event kicks off on October 22, with guest speaker Rheta Grimsley-Johnson, who will talk about her career and her books beginning at 6:00 p.m. Signed books will be available for purchase. Buy your tickets early for this presentation, folks!

A light supper will be provided.

The fun continues with an audience participation sleuthing game — Murder at Ravenwood in the Forest. “Everyone is encouraged to get in on the fun,” Lundy encouraged. The game begins at 7:00 p.m.

The following day, October 23, is ‘Author’s Day’ in the mini park across from the high school. The day begins at 10:00 a.m. and wraps up at 4:00 p.m. “Authors will be book signing and talking about their writing experiences,” said Lundy. “A really special presentation by the Mystic Order of East Alabama Writers takes place from 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. “You can find them on Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook, and they also have a blog. A special guest is an author from Athens, who wrote The Ground Kisser, will also be on hand,” said Lundy.

If you are an author or know someone that is, we encourage you to contact/register with the Lawrence County Public Library in Moulton (256.974.0883) or contact the Lundys at 256.974.4766—if no answer leave a message and they will return your call. This event is free to attendees and authors. Authors are encouraged to bring their own table and seating, however, the Friends will supply table and seating for a fee of $25. Tables and seating are limited and you must request these ahead of time. “This event is free to all,” Lundy added. “All Lawrence County students and teachers are invited.”

On October 24 a used-book sale will be held at the Lawrence County Public Library from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. According to Lundy, all proceeds from this sale are paid directly to library for daily incidentals and necessities.

Tickets for the Ravenwood event on October 22, are on sale now at the Lawrence County Public Library. Tickets are $60 per person, $115 per couple and include a book signed by the guest speaker and a light supper. Directions are included with ticket.

The guest speaker, Rheta Grimsley-Johnson, is a former nationally syndicated columnist and the author of several books, now in semi-retirement. Like all retirees she says she never thought she would be this busy after deciding to leave looming deadlines and trips to unheard of places behind.

However, she isn’t ready for the rocker, yet, either. She edits a newsletter called The French Quarter Journal for a friend, does book signings and travels, but all according to her own schedule, not someone else’s.

She’s interviewed just about everybody who is anybody, but mostly Rheta Grimsley-Johnson found something uncommon in the common people she wrote about. She was always more interested in the life of the limo driver than the people he chauffeured, more interested in the gardener than the owner of the garden, or the butcher than the store owner. Maybe that’s because some of her earliest memories are of tagging along behind her father who was a butcher in Mobile.

He was her biggest fan and she wrote often of him, just about every Father’s Day for 43 years.

In pursuing her career, she met and made many friends with occupations and personalities as diverse as day and night.

She knew as early as the eighth grade that she loved writing and was later involved with her high school newspaper. “I loved having a byline,” she said. As she evolved into one of the most beloved columnists of her time, she says that working on the road and not having to attend meetings were just two of the perks.

She graduated from Auburn University in 1977 and is the winner of the 1974-75 National Pacemaker Award while on the staff of The Auburn Plainsman

From 1980 until 1994, when she joined the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she was a reporter and columnist for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, and Scripps Howard News Service, she worked for the AJC for seven years, and has earned numerous awards for her writing, including the National Headliner Award for commentary in 1985 and Scripps Howard’s Ernie Pyle Memorial Award for outstanding human interest reporting in 1984. In 2010 she received the Clarence Cason Award in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Alabama’s journalism department.  

Johnson was ‘Scripps Howard Writer of the Year’ from 1983 to 1985 and was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1991.

In 1989 she wrote Good Grief, the authorized biography of Charles Schulz. In 2008 she published the book Poor Man’s Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana. She will bring to Ravenwood a selection of her books, including her latest, The Dogs Buried Over The Bridge: A Memoir in Dog Years. One of her books is included in the ticket price.

  Friends of the Lawrence County Public Library Vice-President Steve Lundy, says, “I enjoyed Rheta’s weekly newspaper column before she retired. She wrote about common issues that affect everybody. Her book Poor Man’s Provence also had downhome observations about everyday living.”

This is her hallmark: she is more at home on a dock in the gulf than in a boardroom in Memphis or Atlanta, and she speaks the language of the South, of its bittersweet history, its savory flavors, its incomparable music and the plethora of people from all walks of life who populate her books. 

President Vickie Lundy agrees, “Rheta’s writing talks to me, it’s like I know her personally. Lawrence countians are definitely readers. Rheta is greatly admired and read by just about all. It is our pleasure to host her at this event.”

Many people have been affected the same way, Rheta writes about things we know and love, and entices us to love learning to know about things we are not so familiar with. Her travels include many trips to Paris, where she vacations frequently. But Rheta’s roots are firmly set in the South, where she divides her time between home in nearby Iuka and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

She loves art and the beach in winter, taking long walks on the sandy beaches and eating fresh seafood, maintaining that there is nothing better than Cajun country food.

Rheta is not a literary snob, nothing could be farther from the truth, and in fact she is as down to earth as they come. No fancy office with accolades hanging in matching frames for her, instead she often writes at a small desk in her laundry room that lacks a window. Her inspiration comes from her memories and from new experiences, not a distracting view or a corporate office glass walls with bustling people a few feet away. “I work best in the early mornings,” she says of her craft.

She has a bucket list, part of which will never be checked off. “I always wanted to interview Eleanor Roosevelt,” she said. “Ernie Pile and Barbara Jordan are also people I wish I’d had the chance to interview. Jordan was on the Watergate Committee and had this wonderful, throaty voice.”

Others that were on her bucket list include Earl Scruggs. “I pursued him, even sending him flowers, but his wife was his gatekeeper,” she laughed.

She did get to interview country music icon, Willie Nelson, over the phone. “I wish I could interview him in person,” she sighed. “The phone interview was great, though, but I was nervous.”

You don’t think of a person who has met thousands of strangers and told their stories as being nervous, but great storytellers like Johnson are always conscious of the gravity of telling someone’s story well, of asking the right questions in order to convey the lives of her subjects to millions of people who will never know them, but through Rheta’s gift will, like Lundy, feel as if they do.

She always did her own photography, needing to show her prospective of the person she was writing about. In her meanderings she met other photographers, like Kathlene McFadden, a renowned photographer who will be accompanying Johnson on her trip to Moulton. “Kathlene has never visited the South,” says Johnson. According to her website, McFadden’s style has been described as Contemporary Western. She creates her photographs using a variety of vintage film cameras, dating as far back as 1894. Her techniques are as unusual and interesting as the images that result.

“Don’t forget, 6:00 p.m. is Rheta Grimsley-Johnson’s talk, and the Murder Mystery is afterward, from 7-9 p.m. Everyone is encouraged to get in on the fun. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and mocktails will be served,” said Lundy.

The Friends of the Lawrence County Public Library always welcome new members. Contact the library for meeting times.

 

Tickets are $60/individual, $115/couple. A book is included in price. Carpooling is encouraged and valet parking is available. Directions come with ticket. Proceeds go toward the purchase of a new stove for the library kitchen. “Go by library and take a look at the new refrigerator purchased with Tea/Spelling Bee proceeds,” Lundy suggests.

Books by Rheta Grimsley-Johnson

 

• Grimsley Johnson, Rheta (1989), Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz, New York: Pharos Books, ISBN 0-88687-553-6

• Grimsley Johnson, Rheta (2008), Poor Man’s Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana, Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, ISBN 9781588382184

• Grimsley Johnson, Rheta (2010), Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming: A Memoir, Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, ISBN 9781588382504

• Grimsley Johnson, Rheta (2012), Hank Hung the Moon ... and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts, Montgomery, AL: NewSouth Books, ISBN 9781588382849

• Grimsley Johnson, Rheta (2016), The Dogs Buried Over The Bridge: A Memoir in Dog Years, Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, ISBN 9780895876652

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