Catfish Alley

Written by Lynne Bryant
Review by Nan Curnutt

Roxanne Reeves worked hard to hide her Cajun roots and rise in the ranks of Clarksville, Mississippi’s high society. She became the head of the prestigious Pilgrimage Committee, a group that conducts tours of antebellum homes in town. When a new, Northern-bred member of the committee suggests that an African-American tour be added, Roxanne feels pressured to make sure it happens. Therefore, she makes an appointment to meet Grace Clark, a retired black schoolteacher who mysteriously owns one of the largest antebellum mansions in Clarksville. Grace is surprised when Roxanne asks for her help. She agrees, even though she can tell Roxanne is hesitant around black people.

Grace introduces Roxanne to the black community of the 1920s and ´30s, taking her to visit places such as Catfish Alley, a run-down hotel where Louis Armstrong once played, a Baptist church that stood the test of time, and the first African-American school in Clarksville. These places become alive to Roxanne as Grace and her friends share their histories. Roxanne learns the joy of true friendship as she builds relationships with these extraordinary women. As she learns about their lives, she begins to value her own beginnings.

Lynne Bryant’s outstanding debut was set in a fictional town modeled after Columbus, Mississippi, which was near the farm where she grew up. The events described in the novel resemble events from the history of Columbus. One example is her description of a photographer who took pictures of lynchings and made them into postcards. There was such a photographer, a Mr. O. N. Pruitt, who made these postcards in the 1930s.

Catfish Alley is a poignant, moving novel, rich with historical detail of the Old South.