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 )
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.