Mississippi Writers … Then and Now

Lynne Bryant, my Mississippi writer friend from Columbus, is on book tour this week for her new, first, novel: Catfish Alley. She has already done Lamurie’s in Jackson and Square Books in Oxford. Today it is Hattiesburg, then Natchez on Friday and Columbus on Saturday.

I am doing my best to work through the good Mississippi writers, especially the current ones. We all know, and have read, and have opinions about our classic authors from the past: Faulkner ( need we even pre-fix it with William anymore that we add Presley after invoking  Elvis! ) and Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Shelby Foote, and Willie Morris. … Have we overlooked your favorite?  Stephen F. Ambrose, perhaps.

and … Our list of contemporary successful ( commercial, perhaps … but successful non-the-less )  authors is impressive:  John Grisham, Greg Iles, and Nevada Barr.

Who are those other folks? The ones worth looking for and reading.

For serious readers, start with Barry Hannah. Barry has long been recognized in writing circles as a writer’s writer. … Maybe  his short story Nicodemus Bluff or the novel Bats Out Of Hell.  Barry, I’m sure you know, died on 1 March 2011, before his time. He will be missed.

Surely you have read The Help, Kathryn Stockett. But, if  you haven’t run …  don’t walk … to the bookstore and get a copy. The best new work out of Mississippi in a decade or more.

Some other suggestions: A pure  “guys”  book, Pelican Road, by Howard Bahr. Mr. Bahr is from Meridian, on the faculty at Belhaven. I enjoyed this book as much as anything I read in 2010. Another Meridian writer, John Armistead’s Sheriff Grover Bramlett series is “good stuff.” ( John and Barry and I were all at Mississippi College together in the early ’60’s. ) The other  “guy” writer I want to be sure you know about is Steve Yarbrough, Indianola.  Safe From the Neighbors and The End of California deliver the Delta flavor and at the same time are great reads.  Carolyn Haines is an new and exciting Delta writer of note.

Remember this name:  Olympia Vernon.  You will hear from her for years to come. A young black writer from Osyka: hard against the Louisiana line where I-55 runs into our southern neighbor on your way to New Orleans. Her book A Killing In This Town is riveting.  She will become, in my opinion, the female version of Ernest J. Gaines. ( The Autobiography Miss Jane Pittman )

and …

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Lynne Bryant’s Catfish Alley. The extremely arduous task of finding an agent and then a publisher for new writers of literary fiction in-and- of itself  is an endorsement of her work. In my book club group we sometimes struggle to finding “women’s” books that our guys can still relate to.  This one works.  Catfish Alley is by a woman and about women. The  characters are, for the most part, women. The plot envelopes the entire fictional community of Clarksville, Mississippi.  The story cuts across gender and social lines. I  expect that we will see more of Lynne’s work in the years to come.

Without doubt, there is good southern literary fiction from the old masters to read and re-read for the future, that we can be sure our grandchildren know about.  Books, stories,  by Mississippians about Mississippi. Also, our future is in good hands: Yarbrough and Bryant and Bahr. If you are not from our part of the deep south, pick your own backyard … even if it is Nebraska or New Mexico.  There will be a past, a present, and a future in your literary world. Systematically explore it.

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About Tom Honea

the south mississippi i grew up in did not yet have paved roads or telephones or televisions. it did have great story tellers, on front porches in the summer or around the fire place in the winter. we were poverty stricken, financially but not culturally. we didn't know it. everybody up and down the road was in the same boat. . after forty years of day jobs i am approaching my "fishing years." i plan to spend them writing. i have a finished and edited deep south novel in the "marketing" stages. currently i'm deep into a WW II home front piece set in the Hampton Roads, VA area. notes and character sketches are already underway for "From Hiroshima to Elvis" ( the ten years after the war ) on the coastal areas of South Carolina. . visit asheville ... come and see me.
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2 Responses to Mississippi Writers … Then and Now

  1. Bob Mustin says:

    Good post, Tom. The older guys and gals we so admire have had their day, and they don’t really need our praise (although we can certainly learn a lot from reading them). Let’s focus on the newbies, the really good ones, who are struggling to establish themselves. I’m sure Barry Hannah and W. Faulkner would say so.

  2. Patty Honea Self says:

    Carolyn Haines, my new-found favorite author, is from the Delta & does (to paraphrase a critic) for the Mississippi Delta what Janet Evanovich does for New Jersey. Writes very entertaining mystery novels.

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