Author, columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson to speak at Tallahatchie RiverFest luncheon

Nationally acclaimed author and columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson will be the speaker Friday, Sept. 21, at the annual Tallahatchie RiverFest Kickoff Community Luncheon.

Johnson, who has covered the South for more than three decades as a newspaper reporter and columnist, is the author of several books, including “Hank Hung the Moon … And Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts,” published in March. Her latest book is a personal tale of 1950s and ‘60s musical staples, all viewed through the life story of Hank Williams and the people he influenced.

Johnson, whose weekly column appears in more than 50 newspapers including the Gazette, published an autobiography, “Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming,” in 2010. She lives in nearby Iuka.

“We are fortunate to have one of the South’s greatest living writers as the speaker for our second annual kickoff community luncheon,” said Wayne Mitchell, Gazette publisher and a member of the Tallahatchie RiverFest Literary Committee, sponsor of the luncheon.

Mitchell said Johnson will be the event’s keynote speaker and will stay after to autograph books, which will be available for purchase following the lunch.

Johnson’s career has included stints as a reporter and columnist for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Among her other books is “Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz,” the cartoonist who created Peanuts.

She has received the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award for human interest writing, the National Headliner Award for commentary, the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award for commentary and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

During the lunch, awards will be presented to the winners of the annual William Faulkner Literary Competition. The competition includes categories for best short story by adults/college age students, best one-act play, and best story by a high school student.

The deadline for submissions in the national competition is Aug. 31. Cash prizes totaling $2,200 are awarded in the adult categories and $500 in college scholarships are awarded in the student category. Details on entering the competition are available at

Tickets for the luncheon, which will be catered by Tallahatchie Gourmet and held at First United Methodist Church, will go on sale Aug. 13. Individual tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at the Union County Development Association or the Union County Heritage Museum.

 Businesses and organizations can purchase reserved tables seating eight people for $80. All tickets will be sold in advance.