Nowhere else but in Louisiana

Published 1:00 pm Friday, November 22, 2013

I am winding my way down to the Louisiana Capitol basement, trying to find House Committee Room 6, which is as exciting as it sounds and not evident by the crowds gathering to hear me read.

Most book-loving pilgrims are upstairs, jostling for a seat in the huge but overflowing House Chamber to see hilarious best-selling author Rick Bragg, or in the Senate Chamber with Alan Robertson, oldest son of Duck Commander Phil Robertson from the television show “Duck Dynasty.”

Wouldn’t you?

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As book events go, the Louisiana Book Festival is way up there. Where else but Louisiana can you buy good jambalaya, hear rollicking live Cajun music, get the autograph of the Duck Commander’s preacher son and watch the dazzling blond wife of Blue Dog creator George Rodrigue spill the secrets behind the art, all in the shadow of Huey Long’s final resting place?

“Nowhere,” would be the answer to that.

I am on a panel with television producer Wendy Reed, also a talented new memoirist, whose book is called “An Accidental Memoir: How I Killed Someone and Other Stories.” She goes first and reads her riveting story so well I forget to be nervous when it’s my turn.

Later we both sit at a table in a giant signing tent, next to Emilie Staat, who is working on a book about life and tango, right across from poet Carlos Colon, who is dressed as Elvis because his book is called “Haiku Elvis: A Life in 17 Syllables (or Less).”

But I can’t see Elvis for several minutes because my view is blocked by some kind of incongruous kickboxing demonstration.

Nowhere but Louisiana.

Having spent a lot of time in this, the most colorful of states, in years past, I believe it to be Sutter’s Mill for creative fodder. I’ve covered an alligator funeral in Ponchatoula, interviewed a geriatric stripper on Bourbon Street and written about the gubernatorial election that pitted a former Klansman against the charming shyster Edwin Edwards. The bumper stickers all read “Vote for the Crook; It’s Important.”

I can hear the subject of one recent column, Yvette Landry, belting out her original country tunes on the stage. But she’s also here to sell her first book, a spooky tale about a Catahoula Swamp tree that eats children. Talk about multitasking.

I spot legendary fiddler Joel Savoy and retired Lt. Gen. Russel  Honore, who led the military response to Hurricane Katrina. Doctors, lawyers, retired military chiefs. There are nearly 200 writers, artists and musicians, so you are forced to choose your priorities carefully.

The folks here certainly have figured out how to make a book fair sexy, not stuffy and staid, the way some can be. I suspect some come for the food alone.

And when you tire of literary posturing and book-hawking, you can ride straight to the top of Huey’s tower and get the best view of the river that rolls to the sea, depositing its alluvia and silt and creative talent at a wide and smiling mouth.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit