Selection from the prologue:

"I would write in the stern of our red and green bateau while Calvin was running nets or lines from the bow. Since ink smears when it gets wet, I used pencils on a yellow legal pad propped against the black Mercury outboard motor. Whenever it was time for me to crank the motor and run us to the next line or net, I'd sit on the pad to keep it from blowing away. . . . During the writing process, we carried on our regular conversations. The stories are almost extensions of those conversations, rising and falling with our voices, capturing the essence of our daily lives like our elderberry wine captured the fragrance of April to be released again in October."

Shortly after Atchafalaya Houseboat was published, producer Christina Melton picked it up in a bookstore and knew it was the topic she had been seeking for a documentary. Louisiana Public Broadcasting agreed, and together they launched a new adventure for my life. Filmed partly in the swamp and partly at my homestead in Georgia, I read the entire book in a soundstage at LPB. 

About Atchafalaya Houseboat:

In the early 1970s, two idealistic young people—Gwen Carpenter Roland and Calvin Voisin—decided to leave civilization and re-create the vanished simple life of their great-grandparents in the heart of Louisiana's million-acre Atchafalaya River Basin Swamp. Armed with a box of crayons and a book called How to Build Your Home in the Woods, they drew up plans to recycle a slave-built structure into a houseboat. Without power tools or building experience they constructed a floating dwelling complete with a brick fireplace. Towed deep into the sleepy waters of Bloody Bayou, it was their home for eight years. This is the tale of the not-so-simple life they made together—days spent fishing, trading, making wine, growing food, and growing up—told by Gwen with grace, economy, and eloquence.

Not long after they took up swamp living, Gwen and Calvin met a young photographer named C. C. Lockwood, who shared their "back to the earth" values. His photographs of the couple going about their daily routine were published in National Geographic magazine, bringing them unexpected fame. More than a quarter of a century later, after Gwen and Calvin had long since parted, one of Lockwood's photos of them appeared in a National Geographic collector's edition entitled 100 Best Pictures Unpublished—and kindled the interest of a new generation. That photo and many others by Lockwood are included in black and white images that enhance the vintage feel of the book. Color images of the photos can be seen at

With quiet wisdom, Gwen recounts her eight-year voyage of discovery—about swamp life, wildlife, and herself. A keen observer of both the natural world and the ways of human beings, she transports readers to an unfamiliar and exotic place, preserving her great adventure for those who did not make the trip in person.

Gwen Roland