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Mississippi Public Broadcasting gets personal with Rheta Grimsley Johnson: two terrific interviews

Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming by Rheta Grimsley JohnsonIn back-to-back interviews for Karen Brown and Gene Edwards at Mississippi Public Broadcasting, syndicated newspaper columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson reflects on her life, her work, and her books, including her newest, a memoir called Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming.

In her interview for Brown on Mississippi Edition, Rheta relates with characteristic candor and humor the story underlying the book’s title: growing up Southern Baptist. She says, “We were all taught about the Second Coming,” noting “it was imminent and could happen tonight or tomorrow, but probably not as late as next week.” But as a young girl she asked God “to delay the end game” until after Christmas, when she was to get a new dress for her Barbie doll.

Barbie, says Rheta, becomes a metaphor in her book for how a generation of women approached life, which brought happy times and sad times but also disappointments, and gives her a jumping off point for examination of her personal faith and work.

Appearing with Louis Bourgeois and W. Ralph Eubanks on MPB’s Writers program, Rheta discussed her career as a newspaper columnist. She told host Gene Edwards that she’d always wanted to be a reporter, beginning when she was in the eighth grade. She was encouraged by English teachers and worked on her school newspaper; the experience convinced her she wanted to be a journalist. Two of the major influences on her writing style were Raymond Chandler and James Caine.

Speaking about her memoir, Rheta added, “I’ve always had to write to make sense of my life.” Writing about her husband’s death for her newspaper column made her “start caring a sentence at a time about things.” Reader response to the three columns she devoted to her husband was positive and encouraged her to “think it was okay to make it part of a memoir” she was already working on. That volume, Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming, started out as a funny Christmas book and, well, “it became a different book,” Rheta noted.

Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming is available from NewSouth Books,, or you favorite retail or online bookseller.