One of Essence's Best Books of the Decade!
A New York Times Notable Book of 2012!
Gathering of Waters is a finalist for a Phillis Wheatley Fiction Book Award!
Gathering of Waters was named a finalist for a 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award!
Gathering of Waters has been selected as a Go On Girl! April 2013 Book Pick.
"McFadden works a kind of miracle--not only do [her characters] retain their appealing humanity; their story eclipses the bonds of history to offer continuous surprises...Beautiful and evocative, Gathering of Waters brings three generations to life...The real power of the narrative lies in the richness and complexity of the characters. While they inhabit these pages they live, and they do so gloriously and messily and magically, so that we are at last sorry to see them go, and we sit with those small moments we had with them and worry over them, enchanted, until they become something like our own memories, dimmed by time, but alive with the ghosts of the past, and burning with spirits."
--Jesmyn Ward, New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
"Read it aloud. Hire a chorus to chant it to you and anyone else interested in hearing about civil rights and uncivil desires, about the dark heat of hate, about the force of forgiveness."
--Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, NPR
"McFadden combines events of Biblical proportions--from flooding to resurrection--with history to create a cautionary, redemptive tale that spans the early twentieth century to the start of Hurricane Katrina. She compellingly invites readers to consider the distinctions between 'truth or fantasy'...In McFadden's boldly spun yarn, consequences extend across time and place. This is an arresting historical portrait of Southern life with reimagined outcomes, suggesting that hope in the enduring power of memory can offer healing where justice does not suffice."
"The rich text is shaped by the African American storytelling tradition and layered with significant American histories. Recalling the woven spirituality of Toni Morrison's Beloved, this work will appeal to readers of mystic literature."
"McFadden makes powerful use of imagery in this fantastical novel of ever-flowing waters and troubled spirits."
"In this fierce reimagining, the actual town of Money, MS narrates the story about the ghost of Emmett Till and his from-the-other-side reunification with the girl he loved as a child in Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden."
Gathering of Waters is a deeply engrossing tale narrated by the town of Money, Mississippi--a site both significant and infamous in our collective story as a nation. Money is personified in this haunting story, which chronicles its troubled history following the arrival of the Hilson and Bryant families.
Tass Hilson and Emmett Till were young and in love when Emmett was brutally murdered in 1955. Anxious to escape the town, Tass marries Maximillian May and relocates to Detroit.
Forty years later, after the death of her husband, Tass returns to Money and fantasy takes flesh when Emmett Till's spirit is finally released from the dank, dark waters of the Tallahatchie River. The two lovers are reunited, bringing the story to an enchanting and profound conclusion.
Gathering of Waters mines the truth about Money, Mississippi, as well as the town's families, and threads their history over decades. The bare-bones realism--both disturbing and riveting--combined with a magical realm in which ghosts have the final say, is reminiscent of Toni Morrison's Beloved.
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About the Author
Bernice L. McFadden is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels including the classic Sugar and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, selected as the debut title for the One Book, One Harlem program, and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a two-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of two fiction honor awards from the BCALA. Her sophomore novel, The Warmest December, was praised by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison as "searing and expertly imagined." McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Read an Excerpt
Gathering of Waters
By Bernice L. McFadden
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2012 Bernice L. McFadden
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI am Money. Money Mississippi. I have had many selves and have been many things. My beginning was not a conception, but the result of a growing, stretching, and expanding, which took place over thousands of years.
I have been figments of imaginations, shadows and sudden movements seen out of the corner of your eye. I have been dewdrops, falling stars, silence, flowers, and snails.
For a time I lived as a beating heart, another life found me swimming upstream toward a home nestled in my memory. Once I was a language that died. I have been sunlight, snowdrifts, and sweet babies' breath. But today, however, for you and for this story, I am Money. Money Mississippi.
I do not know for whom or what I was named. Perhaps I was christened for a farmer's beloved mule or a child's favorite pet; I suspect, though, that my name was derived from a dream deferred, because as a town, I have been impoverished for most of my existence.
You know, before white men came with their smiles, Bibles, guns, and disease, this place that I am was inhabited by Native men. Choctaw Indians. It was the Choctaw who gave the state its name: Mississippi—which means many gathering of waters. The white men fancied the name, but not the Indians, and so slaughtered them and replaced them with Africans, who as you know were turned into slaves to drive the white man's ego, whim, and industry.
But what you may not know and what the colonists, genociders, and slave owners certainly did not know is this: Both the Native man and the African believed in animism, which is the idea that souls inhabit all objects, living things, and even phenomena. When objects are destroyed and bodies perish, the souls flit off in search of a new home. Some souls bring along memories, baggage if you will, that they are unwilling or unable to relive themselves of. Oftentimes these memories manifest in humans as déjà vu. Other times and in many other life-forms and so-called inanimate objects, these displays have been labeled as curious, bizarre, absurd, and deadly.
You may have read in the news about the feline having all the characteristics of a dog, the primate who walked upright from the day he was born until the day he died, of men trapped in female hosts and vice versa, the woman who woke one morning to find that she had grown a tail, the baby boy who emerged from his mother's womb flanked not in skin but scales, the man who grew to the towering heights of a tree, rivers overflowing their banks, monster waves wiping away whole cities, twisters gobbling up entire neighborhoods, relentlessly falling snow blanketing towns like volcano ash.
These are all memories of previous existences.
Listen, if you choose to believe nothing else that transpires here, believe this: your body does not have a soul; your soul has a body, and souls never, ever die.
To my memory, I have never been human, which probably explains my fascination with your kind. Admittedly, I am guilty of a very long and desperate infatuation with a family that I followed for decades. In hindsight, I believe that I was drawn to the beautifully tragic heartbrokenness of their lives, and so for years remained with them, helplessly tethered, like a mare to a post.
Their story begins not with the tragedy of '55 but long before that, with the arrival of the first problem, which came draped in crinoline and silk; carrying a pink parasol in one hand and a Bible in the other.
Chapter TwoIn 1900, the Violet Construction Company purchased a tract of land on the south bank of the Tallahatchie River and dug up the bones of the Choctaw Indians and the Africans. They tore from their roots black-eyed Susans, Cherokee roses, and Virginia creepers, and removed quite a number of magnolia and tupelo saplings. They did all of this to make room for forty three-story clapboard homes complete with indoor plumbing, grand verandas, and widow's walks. A road was laid to accommodate horse and buggies and the rare motorcar. The cobblestone sidewalks were lined with gas street lanterns and the street itself was christened Candle.
Oak floors, chandeliers, wainscoting, and brass hardware dazzled potential buyers who came to view those homes that looked over the prettiest part of the river. The people walked through the spacious rooms holding their chins and sighing approvingly in their throats as they admired the fine woodwork and custom details.
The homes sold very quickly.
With the creation of Candle Street came jobs for laundresses, maids, and cooks, which brought in more people to the area—darker people.
So in 1915, the Violet Construction Company purchased a second tract of land, this time on the north shore of the river.
The north shore tract was cleared of most of the ancient, towering long-leaf pines whose thick canopy had deprived the land of sun, which turned the earth hard, dry, and as uneven as a washboard. Running vines speckled with yellow thorns coiled around trees, rocks, and the carcasses of animals and people who had stopped, dropped, and died there. The Violet Construction Company removed all of it and used the cheapest grade of pinewood to erect thirty modest-sized homes that did not have indoor plumbing, widow's walks, or verandas. At night the Negroes had to depend on the light of the moon to guide them along the rocky, cratered footpath. And if there was no moonlight—well, God help them.
The Violet Construction Company named the street Baxter's Road, but since only Negroes occupied those homes, both black and white alike began to refer to the little community on the north shore as Nigger Row.
The church, funded by the Negro community, was built in 1921. The residents of Candle Street gifted their dark, wooly-haired neighbors a small crate of Bibles and a proper crucifix set with a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus molded from plaster of paris and nailed resolutely to its center. The Negroes did not have a man of the cloth living amongst them, so sent out word that they were in search of a suitable cleric to lead their flock.
As fate would have it, Reverend August Hilson and his family had recently been displaced by the race riots that erupted in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Negroes who managed to avoid being shot down in the streets like dogs, or burned to a crisp as they slept in their beds, packed up what they could and fled Tulsa.
For weeks, August and his family lived like nomads, wandering from one town to the next until they wandered all the way to Greenwood, Mississippi. There, August learned that his services were in dire need, "Just down the road," the bearer of the news advised, "in Money."
August Hilson and his family took possession of a home on Nigger Row on a cool November day. The photographer from the local newspaper came to capture the auspicious occasion. The family posed on the porch. August was seated in a mahogany chair cushioned in red velvet. The long, dark fingers of his right hand curled around his favorite Bible. His left hand rested on the intricately carved lion's head which looked out at the photographer from its post at the top of the armrest. His wife, a peanut-colored, petite, full-bosomed woman named Doll, stood dutifully at his right side with her left hand on his shoulder, her right hand wrapped around the long neck of her beloved pink parasol. The children—a daughter named Hemmingway and a son named Paris—were stationed to the left of their father, arms still at their sides.
It was the first time any of them had ever been photographed, and even though they were practically bursting with glee, their expressions were painfully somber and their postures were as stiff as stone.
From beneath the dark blanket that covered both photographer and camera, the photographer counted off: Three ... two ... one ...
The bulb exploded, expelling a puff of white smoke. A cheer went up from the small crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle, and the Hilson family officially began their new lives.
Days later, when August was presented with a framed copy of the newspaper article, he took it into the drawing room where the light was brightest. There, August stood for many minutes gazing wondrously at the grainy picture. He thought they all looked like wax figures—well, all except Doll, who had the faintest wisp of a smile resting on her lips.
August was too modest a man to hang the framed article on the wall for every visitor to see, so stored it away on a bookshelf. Every once in a while, when he was home alone, he would remove the framed treasure and ogle the picture.
Over the years, the clipping yellowed and curled behind its protective glass, and the photo began to distort and fade. Sometimes when August peered at it, Doll seemed to be sneering; other times, she bared her teeth like a badger. August blamed the changes in the picture on figments of his imagination, poor light, and aging eyes; he had a bagful of explanations to explain it away. The final straw, however, came when he looked at the picture one day and saw that Doll's middle and index fingers on both hands were crossed; August could not for the life of him decide if the gesture had been made in hope of good luck or for exclusion from a promise.
He tossed the memento in the river, but it was too late—his fate was already sealed.
Excerpted from Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden Copyright © 2012 by Bernice L. McFadden . Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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