Catfish Alley takes a different approach to friendship, understanding between races

by Lynn Lofton

Published: June 5,2011

Tags: Book Biz, Catfish Alley, Lynne Bryant, Main Street Books

Once again Mississippi’s troubled history of racism and timorous present-day understanding of it come to the forefront in “Catfish Alley,” a debut novel by Lynne Bryant. It’s pitched as a tale of “female friendship, endurance and hope in the South” and is yet another book that takes a shot at Junior League-ism.

Diane Shepherd, owner of Main Street Books in Hattiesburg, recommends the book. “I recently read ‘Catfish Alley’ and really liked it,” she said. “The author looked at the black-and-white situation differently and wrote about it in a refreshing way by bringing attention to the town’s African-American community and historic landmarks. She arrives at a better understanding of the races.”

Bryant was born and reared in rural Mississippi where her maternal grandparents farmed cotton and her mother was one of their 15 children. After finishing nursing school at Mississippi University for Women, she earned a master’s degree at Ole Miss and a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado. She teaches nursing full time in Colorado but says on her website that “the home of my heart will always be Mississippi.”

The book’s protagonist is Roxanne Reeves, a middle-age Junior Leaguer who throws herself into directing the town of Clarksville’s 2002 Pilgrimage Tour of Antebellum homes. With trepidation and some community resistance, she develops an African-American Historical Tour with help from 89-year-old Grace Clark, a retired African-American teacher.

Clark takes Reeves to a part of town known as Catfish Alley, once a thriving area that’s now dotted with warehouses. One warehouse, owned by Del Tanner, son of a notorious racist, once housed the first school for African-American children. Research for the tour unearths other facts — including a rape and lynching that involved Tanner’s father — and memories that many in the town would rather leave buried.

Shepherd, who recently relocated her book store to 210 Main Street, added, “Lynne Bryant has a sister living in Hattiesburg and had a really great book signing here. She’s a delightful person.”

In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly opined, “Though Bryant’s approach to narrative is perfunctory, her tale will appeal to readers who enjoyed ‘The Help.’”

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