A Feast of Days (Part 1)

Pictured above: Streets of Oxford

Today’s guest post is by emerging writer Darrelyn Saloom, who recently attended the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference, and is offering up a 4-part narrative on the experience.

Darrelyn is a regular guest here at No Rules. Follow her on Twitter or read her previous posts.

On a Wednesday in November, Deirdre Gogarty and I flew to Memphis at sunset and landed an hour later in darkness sprinkled with glittering lights. A minivan pulled in front of Delta’s Concourse B. Mike Stanton, photographer and self-described coffee evangelist, hopped out of the driver’s seat and loaded our bags into the back of the rental. Another writer/blogger/conference attendee named Louise Julig perched in the front passenger’s seat.  

Mike drove Louise, Deirdre, and me to Oxford, Mississippi, in a vehicle that smelled of a finely, brewed bean. A full thermos and cups waited to be filled with our driver’s special blend. We poured. We drank. We shared stories. And then Mike took us to a tiny market/restaurant around eight o’clock that night. He ordered tacos for us in effortless Spanish. Hungry, we inhaled the best Mexican food I’ve tasted since my childhood in McAllen, Texas.

As homemade tortillas assailed my senses I entered a fictive dream. No longer in the real world but in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Ellen Gilchrist’s In the Land of Dreamy Dreams. We drove around the center of Oxford called the square, a haven of independent bookstores, restaurants, churches, and courthouse. Our chivalrous driver then unloaded our suitcases at The Inn at Ole Miss and bid us farewell. “You’ll be seeing me around,” he said as he gave us his phone number in case we’d need a ride.

Thursday morning I awoke to blinding sunlight, trees bursting with color, and a hilly landscape that begged to be walked. Deirdre and I trotted down steep steps, passed an old train depot, followed sidewalks to the square. We feasted on books, roasted vegetable sandwiches, and High Point Coffee lattes. We crossed streets as courteous drivers stopped and waited. Everyone yielded: men, women, even students who looked too young to drive.

Later that day we attended Neil White’s pre-conference workshop. The author mapped out his approach to writing his memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. He handed out brochures and posted diagrams of Art & Craft. We connected dots from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron and stared at our lopsided lives. Then we discussed Voice and David Sedaris, Details and Rick Bragg. Neil explained how his original 300,000 words had become 87,000. He brainstormed 150 titles before his intuitive wife pointed the way to the one he would choose.

Just as the sun began to sink and brighten the trees, Deirdre and I rode a red double-decker bus to Off Square Books. We sat near a circular corner stage in fourth-row seats as Jim Dees introduced the house band, the Yalobushwhackers—this was Thacker Mountain Radio, a live broadcast for Rebel Radio 92.1 FM to be re-broadcast Saturday night on Mississippi Public Radio. Here I slipped deeper into my Oxford dream. I held onto my chair as Ian Frazier read from his latest book Travels in Siberia. Would someone please pinch me?  

Taylor Hildebrand then sang a few original songs and Lee Gutkind, the “Godfather of Creative Nonfiction,” took the stage and performed as though he were in a play. He entertained with a story from his travel memoir Truckin’ with Sam. His reading evoked laughter as he humorously described physical problems he’d had which also made me worry like a mother or a wife. I’ve never seen an author execute a reading quite like Lee’s. Still in the fictive dream, no one had pinched me.

Next, the Bill Perry Trio played keyboard, drums, and bass. (Pictured above: bass player Keith Fondren.) They slid from blues to a funky jazz which transported me closer to home. I had to blink. But when I opened my eyes, I was not leaning on a bar in my hometown in Louisiana or some jewel of a dive in the French Quarter. Instead, I sipped wine in a bookstore on the square in Oxford, Mississippi. I’d been gorging on hors d’oeuvres before the main course arrived. 
For the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference did not officially begin until the next day. 

Pictured below: Susan Cushman and Kathy Rhodes during Thacker Mountain Radio’s live broadcast at Off Square Books. (These two ladies were the force behind the Oxford conference.)

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Darrelyn Saloom, Guest Post

About Ben Sobieck

Benjamin Sobieck is a Wattpad Star and 2016 Watty Award winner. He’s best known on Wattpad for Glass Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective, the Watty Award–winning sequel Black Eye, and When the Black-Eyed Children Knock & Other Stories. Four of his titles have appeared on Wattpad Top 100 Hot Lists, all at the same time.

20 thoughts on “A Feast of Days (Part 1)

  1. Mary

    I’m so glad I found this post because I’ve always wanted to visit Oxford, Mississippi. Now I really want to walk the streets, enjoy great food, shop in bookstores, and listen to music. Sounds like a wonderful place.

  2. Sally G

    The perfect eve of the next few evenings…great food, drink and company. The music and atmosphere of Oxford just an added bonus. Looking forward to reading more of what inspires.

  3. Mary L. Tabor

    Great post, Darrelyn,

    I add that readers here should read David Shields’ Reality Hunger: This book is breakthrough prose of the highest order. If you write (or if you read!) and haven’t bought Reality Hunger, do! It’s brilliant—the best work I’ve read on the writing process, on the nature of invention, on art and on the torturous permissions process that any writer who simply chooses to acknowledge and quote her influences—the writers who have been part and parcel of her thinking—that I have read in a lifetime of reading.

    I have a new blog post of the short story and the lyric poem here (should that be of any interest to readers here); It’s at http://maryltabor.blogspot.com

    Darrelyn, always a pleasure to read you,


  4. Jurien

    Thanks for the free, fifteen minute trip to Oxford: it was lovely. This is extra motivation to finish my book, so I can attend in person. Hopefully there will be another conference there in thirty or so years!

  5. cynthia newberry martin

    These are the details I’ve been craving about your trip. So glad to finally read them here. What a great job you do sending us back so we can experience these moments with you. The coffee, walking on the Square, sipping the wine…and then I looked up and was surprised to find myself still at my desk. I can’t wait for the next part.

  6. Jill George

    Darrelyn, Thanks for the great intro to Oxford, Mississippi. I felt the whole trip so far from sipping coffee in the cab,lisening to writers read from their own to my eyes actually closing while blues played the evenings end. I can’t wait to read more of your adventures. Thank you for a nice ending to my "normal" workday.:-)
    Jill George

  7. Jenn

    Sounds amazing! I’m excited to hear more in the other three installments. Reading your description is the next best thing to being there with you. I’m glad no one pinched you. 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. kathryn magendie

    Oh! Wish I’d been there – I attended this conference years ago and I so much enjoyed it. I wish I could remember the diner where we ate while looking out at passersby.

    Only thing better than attending would be to be a speaker/author there! hooya!

    I feel full now – nice and full *smiling*

  9. Dawn Herring

    The way you described your experience in this piece made me feel as if I were there with you. 🙂 I love how you weave bits of your past into the narrative which gives a look into your perspective on your pre-conference experience. The sights, sounds, and even tastes were delicious to read.

    I look forward to the next installment!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring

  10. Amber J. Gardner

    Wow. And it hadn’t even started yet?! This is one of the reasons I want to be a professional writer. I want to go to all the conferences! They’re so awesome and you meet the most amazing people. I wish I could have gone, even if it wasn’t even in my genre lol.

    I’m so glad you has so much fun! I can’t wait for the next part.

  11. Mari Juniper

    Ohh, I sure would like to have been there too! It sounds like the whole thing was most productive and fun! Not to mention the wine passage, heh.

    Great descriptions, Darrelyn. I felt like I was beside you in spirit in a non-posthumous-late way. How weird is that? lol Thanks for the trip, can’t wait for the second part.

  12. Barbara Weibel

    Ooohhh – sounds like I really should have been there. But that would mean I’d have to return to the U.S. and that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me right now. Perhaps I can learn by osmosis; I do hope there will be more to come about the actual conference!

  13. Louise

    Oxford was such a great experience. I learned so much and met so many wonderful people – and they were all writers! As a Californian, I had a distinct, "We’re not in Kansas anymore" feeling the entire time (substituting San Diego for Kansas), although I was as surprised as anyone to have authentic Mexican street tacos in the middle of Mississippi (they were *fantastic*). Thanks for including me in your post, and best wishes for your memoir project with Dierdre!


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