McFadden’s ‘Gathering of the Waters’ Takes In-Depth Look at Emmett Till’s Murder

Just another Mississippi County Courthouse

Bernice L. McFadden’s new novel, Gathering of Waters, explores the history surrounding the brutal murder of Emmett Till, a major event in Civil Rights history. Rather than sticking close to the events of Till’s death, Gathering of Waters looks at generations before and after Till’s life in Money, Miss.

Consider this author’s opening passage:

“I 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.”

This author’s all-knowing, mythic voice of the town drives Gathering of Waters and allows McFadden to explore Till’s life and death without the rigid limitations of history. So much has already been written about Till’s death, probably best by his mother (Mamie Till Mobley), that writing a novel centered on it risks repeating what has already been said. McFadden’s real contribution is to ignore the wider historical context of Till and focus in on emotional, human aspects of his story. McFadden’s magical touches are a refreshing, unexpected approach to the hard facts.

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden. Akashic Books. $15.95. 250 pp.