The Star Reporter

March 29, 2001


Carrie Stepp

Kindergarten Teacher Writes First Novel, The Narrow Journey

Deborah Clawson Johnson has always wanted to write. She says it's the most fun thing she's ever done, becoming completely absorbed into another world for hours at a time.

Waking up from four or five hours of concentrated writing is like waking up from a dream for Johnson. And to her delight, she has arranged her life so she can write and so it is filled with the magic of the gift of literacy in many ways.

Johnson was born and grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She comes from a long line of uneducated people in the southern part of the state. Although uneducated, her family has a rich oral tradition, as does all of southern Louisiana, according to Johnson. She says her grandfathers were two of the very best storytellers around, and that her 97-year-old grandmother is still a fountain of wonderful stories. Her family is very close, and Johnson grew up being thrilled by weekly Sunday storytelling sessions with her grandfathers.

That tradition is in Johnson's blood, and she has continued it in a slightly different fashion---she writes her stories down.

In 1974, Clawson married Jim Johnson from New Orleans whom she met while attending McNeese State University. She left school to marry and move to Columbia for her husband's career. She later finished her undergraduate degree in art education at USC. Not really wanting to teach, Johnson stayed home with her two daughters, now 26 and 21, until the younger was four. She then began teaching pre-school where she discovered to her surprise that she liked teaching little ones.

Johnson went back to school and earned her master's degree in early childhood education. After that, she taught kindergarten and first grade in Richland School District One for ten years. And now she's in her third year of teaching five-year-old kindergarten at Bethel-Hanberry in Richland School District Two.

So how does a mother who spends her days with active five-year-olds find the time and energy to write? Johnson says teaching has been the perfect job for her writing career because she teaches children to read every year. Johnson believes that guiding little people through the miracle of reading further inspires her to write stories for people to read. Teaching has allowed her to work but to have summers off to write.

As for energy, Johnson comes from a long line of very strong and strong-willed women, one of whom, her great-grandmother, was the inspiration for the main character of her novel, The Narrow Journey.

The Narrow Journey is about a young Cajun girl, Lucie Trosclair, growing up in 19th century Louisiana, and how she survives the narrow journey to adulthood by sheer determination, quick wit, and a wicked sense of humor. The major theme of the book is Lucie's intense desire to better herself, and she sees her illiteracy as her biggest handicap.

Johnson has been writing steadily for 15 years and has won several awards for her work, including the SC Arts Commission's Fiction Project and the Green River Writer's Competition.

The Narrow Journey is her first novel. Johnson is working on a new novel set in the present at the beach. She will soon start a book signing tour in SC, Louisiana and Colorado, where The Narrow Journey ends. She will also appear on a four-woman panel discussing southern women and fiction at the SC Humanities Book Festival in April and will sign books at the Happy Bookseller Thursday, April 5 at 5 PM.

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