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Episode #211


Air date 09/16/10 | CC
Host: Gene Edwards
Guest(s): Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Ralph Eubanks, Louis E. Bourgeois

“Maybe you have something to say.” That’s the wisdom a friend offered Rheta Grimsley Johnson as she published her second memoir. Ralph Eubanks notes that personal experience is a way to draw a reader into a topic, and Louis E. Bourgeois wrote a fictional protagonist “to get some distance from the experiences.” “I think the definition of art is honesty,” notes Johnson. “If you’re going to do it at all, you need to do it as honestly as you can.”




“Writing is a tough business, and you have to be like a Baptist preacher. You have to be called,” laughs memoirist Rheta Grimsley Johnson as she joins W. Ralph Eubanks and Louis E. Bourgeois at the Writers’ roundtable “You have to really want to do this.” Together, they discuss their writing lives as well as memories of childhood and family, of love and loss, and of dark times and light.

Johnson, an award winning columnist, studied journalism in college and worked for various newspapers. In 1982 when she was the Greenville correspondent for the Memphis Commercial Appeal,“the editorial page editor invited the lowliest of the low, the bureaureporters” to submit sample columns. “I just went back to my office and churned out about four and handed them in. And one ran.” She has been writing columns ever since.

Writing for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, she headed to Cajun country to cover a story. Here she began her love affair with southern Louisiana which led to her memoir Poor Man’s Provence. She reminisces again in Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming, which chronicles her life from growing up Southern Baptist to her memorable journalism career to the unexpected death of her husband.

W. Ralph Eubanks’ first memoir, Ever is a Long Time, began as a narrative history of the Sovereignty Commission, but after finding his parents’ names in their extensive files, it became a personal story. Host Gene Edwards clarifies, “The Sovereignty Commission was a civil rights era organization that was started to keep an eye on activists.” By a 1998 court order, these secret files were made public. “There were the names there and then I had to find out exactly how did they end up there,” he remembers. “There is another story behind it.”

While Ever is a Long Time traces Eubanks’ Mississippi childhood during the turbulent Civil Right Era, Eubanks’ second memoir,The House at The End of The Road, tells the story of his maternal grandparents’ integrated marriage. “I went into this thinking I was going to learn a great deal about my grandparents,” he says, “and I learned how little race had come to mean to me in my life.”

“This is a tale from a working class child,” says Louis E. Bourgeois of The Gar Diaries, and his memoir is a haunting look at his life in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. “I’m a product of that environment,” Bourgeois adds, “and that’s what I’m trying to understand in this book. Who am I inrelation to this environment?” He named the protagonist Lucas, but explains, “Lucas is just a way for me to get some distance from the experiences so they don’t overwhelm me. I am Lucas.”

As for writing personal stories, Eubanks observes, “I think so often in thinking about memoirs as a form that’s very self centered, very much a naval gazing exercise. There is that aspect, but at the same time you’re also trying to reach a reader like any other writer.”

And like other authors, writing is also one of life’s necessities. For Bourgeois, “Reading is something I’ve always done, but for me writing was something that I had to do. There was nothing else I had a desire to do.” Johnson’s experience was similar. Writing after her husband’s death, “I went into some zone I had never been in writing-wise.” She says, “If I was awake, I was writing.”

“Don’t wait too long” is Johnson’s advice. “If you have a story tell it now.” Eubanks adds that “people should know whatever their story is, and write it down whatever way they can so it doesn’t get lost.” “Write your story,” Bourgeois agrees. Then he adds, “You need to do it because it is important.”


W. Ralph Eubanks

  • Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi's Dark Past, Basic Books, 2003.
  • The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South, Harper Collins, 2009.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

  • America’s Faces, St. Luke’s Press, 1987
  • Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz, Pharos Books, 1989.
  • They Didn't Put That on the Huntley-Brinkley!: A Vagabond Reporter Encounters the New South, University of Georgia Press, 1993.
  • Georgia, Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co, 2000.
  • Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana, New South Books, 2008.
  • Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming: A Memoir, New South Books, 2010.

Louis E. Bourgeois

  • Through the Cemetery Gates, Q.Q. Press of Scotland, 2003
  • Cora Falling Off the Face of the Earth, Chapultepec Press, 2004.
  • White Night,Finishing Line Press, 2004
  • Fragments of a Life Thirty-two Years Gone, Ginninderra Press, 2004
  • The Distance of Ducks, Red Dragon Press, 2005.
  • OLGA, Wordtech Communications, 2005.
  • The Animal: Prose Poetics,BlazeVOX Books, 2008
  • The Gar Diaries, Community Press, 2008.
  • Hosanna: Affirmations and Blasphemies, Xenos Books, 2010.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Information on Johnson

Ms. Johnson takes NPR’s Debbie Elliot on a tour of Cajun Louisiana

Interview with Johnson 

Q & A with Johnson

Review of Poor Man’s Provence

Articles on Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Review of Poor Man’s Provence

Article about Poor Man’s Provence

Synopsis and review of Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming

Articles by Johnson 


W. Ralph Eubanks

Author’s homepage

Information on Eubanks

Video about The House at the End of the Road

A chat with W. Ralph Eubanks

Eubanks piece at the PEN/Faulkner 21st annual Award for Fiction Gala

Review of The House at the End of the Road

Praise for The House at the End of the Road

Review of Ever is a Long Time

Eubanks talks about Mississippi’s past

Interview with Eubanks on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation”


Louis E. Bourgeois

Information on Bourgeois

Reviews of The Gar Diaries

Review of The Animal

Review of Hosanna: Affirmations and Blasphemies

Interview with Louis E. Bourgeois

Interview with Louis E. Bourgeois

Interview with Louis E. Bourgeois

Biography of Bourgeois

Poems by Bourgeois


W. Ralph Eubanks

Flickr photo gallery

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Flickr photo gallery

Louis E. Bourgeois

Flickr photo gallery


W. Ralph Eubanks

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Louis E. Bourgeois


Click here for a complete list of teaching resources related to this episode.


William Faulkner

Eudora Welty

Barry Hannah

Raymond Chandler

James M. Cain

Lewis Grizzard

Sovereignty Commission

Henderson, Louisiana

Slidell, Louisiana

LaComb, Louisiana

Prestwick, Alabama

Mount Olive, Mississippi

Oxford, MS

Commercial Appeal

Atlanta Journal Constitution

Cajun Culture

Gar fish

Vox Press

Library of Congress


Producer: Edie Greene
Associate Producer: Kate Robison
Cameras:  Earnest Seals
Ryan Bohling
Jeremy Burson
Chris Bufkin
Floor Director: Kate Robison
Production Audio: John Busbice
Taiwo Gaynor
CCU: Adam Chance
Videotape: Clark Lee
Location Videography: Jeremy Burson
Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan
Production Supervisor: Paul Miller
Editors: Edie Greene
Kate Robison
On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen
Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell
Production Assistant: Kate Robison
Art Director: Karen Wing
Makeup: Pamela Bass
Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke
Audio Post Production: Taiwo Gaynor
John Busbice
Closed Captioning: Keri Horn
Scenic Designers: Karen Wing
Jack Thomas
Frank Cocke
Kenneth Sullivan
Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas
Ray Green
Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith
Publicity: Mari Irby
Laura Mann
Webmaster: Thomas Broadus
Host:  Gene Edwards
Guests: Louis E. Bourgeois
Ralph Eubanks
Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Voice of Rheta Grimsley Johnson: Melanie Smith
Director of Television: Jason Klein
Executive Producer: Rick Klein

Special Thanks to
Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Suzanne Marrs

Excerpt from Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming used by permission of New South Books. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from The Gar Diaries used by permission of Community Press. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi's Dark Past used by permission of Basic Book. All rights reserved.

Images of Louis E. Bourgeois used by permission of Louis E. Bourgeois. All rights reserved.

Images of Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Don Grierson, Henderson LA, childhood,Jeanette and Johnelle Latiolais, Helene Boudreaux used by permission of Rheta Grimsley Johnson. All rights reserved.

Images of Ralph Eubanks, childhood, Delaney Eubanks, Prestwick AL, Mount Olive MS used by permission of Ralph Eubanks. All rights reserved.

Created by
Gene Edwards
John Evans

Copyright © MAET 2010