A Feast of Days (Part 4): The Last Chapter

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. (Pictured above: William Faulkner statue on the square, in Oxford, Miss.)

On the third day of the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference and Workshops, after my pitch fest debacle (read Part 3 for that disaster), co-writer Deirdre Gogarty and I headed back to the Overby Center on the Ole Miss campus for a panel discussion on “Defending the Genre” of creative nonfiction with Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Mike Rosenwald, and Robert Goolrick.

(Pictured above: Dinty W. Moore, Neil White, who assembled the perfect authors for the conference, and Robert Goolrick)  

The esteemed panelists discussed criticisms they’ve endured as nonfiction writers who use literary devices such as dialogue, description, and personal point of view to enhance their tales and bring them to life. Unfortunately, a few infamous liars have topped best-seller lists and have blighted the field for others who excel in the art of accurate storytelling—hence the need to defend the genre.

After a lively discussion the audience bundled up and hustled downtown to Off Square Books for a reception and book signing with panelists and other authors attending the conference. Wineglasses filled and emptied and the bookstore buzzed with chatter as attendees shared stories and bought books to have them inscribed. Deirdre and I then heaved our book-filled bags towards a small stage to sit in metal folding chairs as Robert Goolrick took to the podium.

The best-selling author had been slated to discuss “Crossing Genres.” He wore round-framed eyeglasses and a well-fitted, charcoal-gray sports coat over a sky blue shirt, the perfect color for his short, graying hair which was carefully combed and side-parted. Only a small patch, a defiant lock, stuck straight up at the end of his part like a young boy waving from inside the man. 

Goolrick articulated the way a creative nonfiction writer can use the same lyrical language as a novelist by first reading from his dark, beautifully written novel, A Reliable Wife. He then picked up his memoir, The End of the World As We Know It, and read the last chapter, “A Persistence of Song.” Even though I had read his unforgettable story three years earlier, emotion throttled me the moment he began:

In a life, in any life, bad things happen. Many good things happen, of course, we know what they are—joy, tenderness, success, beauty—but some bad things happen as well. Sometimes, very bad things happen. Children sicken and die. People we love don’t love us, can never love us …

He continued to read and answered a question I’d been pondering throughout the conference: What compels me to write creative nonfiction? Perhaps it’s because I’m infused by memories and need to write them down. In an effort to understand feelings and actions, I must look deeply but not very far. The stories are right here, in my body, my soul, my psyche, and in the mementos around me. As Goolrick said:

It is in the photographs of our mothers and our fathers. It is in a piece of costume jewelry, left in a drawer, in the sounds of other people making love in the next hotel room, or on the edge of a razor blade in the glowing darkness. Even in the razor in the darkness. 

I sat paralyzed by the power of his words and felt connected to every person in the room who also sat in stunned silence. I allowed Goolrick’s pain to soak into the dirt and grime of my own life in hopes to ease a portion of his angst and let go my own tears as he described in detail the prescription drugs he must take to get through a day and to still sleep badly at night. To know Goolrick’s story, you’ll have to read his memoir. But I’ll share with you two of his reasons for writing it:

I tell it because there is an ache in my heart for the imagined beauty of a life I haven’t had, from which I have been locked out, and it never goes away.

I tell it because I try to believe, because I do believe with all my heart, that there is a persistence of song.

The impeccable author finished his reading and asked a roomful of writers, journalists, and talkers if anyone had any questions. But no one could speak. Our throats were constricted, so we stood and mingled in a daze. Then Goolrick signed his books and told me that he had publicly read from his novel but this was the first time he had openly read from his memoir. It had taken him three years. 

I believe Robert Goolrick chose the perfect setting to do so—a town haunted by ghosts of William Faulkner and his family. And I’m honored to have been among his audience of admirers, of poets, authors, and journalists—defenders of creative nonfiction. I can’t imagine a better place to first read a painful last chapter than inside a warm bookstore, on a cold night in November, on the square in Oxford, Mississippi.  

(Pictured below: Robert Goolrick with 1997 WIBF Champion, Deirdre Gogarty, on the veranda of Memory House)

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23 thoughts on “A Feast of Days (Part 4): The Last Chapter

  1. Heidi

    You write so beautifully and capture these incredible moments in such a moving way. "A defiant lock, stuck straight up at the end of his part like a young boy waving from inside the man" just one of many lovely phrases. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I have enjoyed this series and look forward to reading your next piece.

  2. Sally G

    When you close your eyes and listen to what a warm, damp southerly breeze whispers as it goes right through you is reminiscent of what you feel as you read this piece. Words are spare and heady. I think this is the beginning of something beautiful and long lasting. Excellent job Darrelyn.

  3. Cindy Bullion

    Dear D,
    Thanks for sharing these intimate moments of the conference! I will definitely be reading Robert Goolrick’s memoir.
    Also, this is the first picture I’ve seen of Deirdre! Can’t wait to read your book as well!

  4. Herman King

    I had the privilege of being at Square Books during Robert’s reading. I, like Darrelyn, sat frozen at the power of his words. Robert foretold what might come when he mounted the stage. "I saw a shelf over here that says ‘Southern History, half price,’ I find that hard to believe. In the South we always pay full price for our history."
    Robert came by me as he stepped from the stage and said under his breath, "That was harder than I thought." The most moving reading I have ever heard, anywhere. I believe he felt comfortable enough to do it in the presence of so many writers.


  5. Gina Melancon

    I too am sad to see this series end. But what a finale Darrelyn! Thank you for letting me tag along. Can’t wait to read about your next adventure.

  6. Jurien

    A brilliant finish to a superb series. I’m sad to see it end. But I’m happy to see it end with Goolrick ( one of my favorites).
    As a side note, I had no idea how beautiful Deirdre is.

  7. cynthia newberry martin

    I also loved the last sentence of this last post in this engaging series on your conference: "I can’t imagine a better place to first read a painful last chapter than inside a warm bookstore, on a cold night in November, on the square in Oxford, Mississippi." Darrelyn, thanks for sharing. And wonderful photo of Deirdre!

  8. George LaCas

    Another excellent post, Darrelyn. It seems to me that our own lives, stories and feelings make up the bulk of much that gets written, whether it’s called fiction or creative nonfiction. Maybe it’s about who lies the most, or lies the best! Your Oxford posts remind us that writing does not occur in a vacuum, but rather happens after life experiences have shaped us … and hopefully after we’ve learned a few lessons.

  9. Dawn Herring

    Thanks for providing such a detailed inside view and revealing the touching emotional resonance you felt as you listened to the reading. I loved your use of metaphor, especially with the hair (the young boy waving inside the man).

    I look forward to future posts. 🙂

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance

  10. Marisa Birns

    So grateful to have experienced the conference through your words. I do believe that creative non-fiction is the place for you. Your stories, though non-fiction, enchant in the same way as a very good literary tale.

  11. Julie Innis

    A perfect ending to a perfect series of posts. I’m so moved and inspired by Goolrick’s words. Thank you again for your candid (and good-humored!) description of the Oxford CNF conference and thank you, Writer’s Digest and Jane Friedman for providing a platform for such a wonderful writer. Hope to read more of Darrelyn Saloom here in the near future.

  12. Deborah cutler

    Thank you Darrelynn for taking me on your journey to Oxford. You have given me the opportunity to read such rich writers. I loved the little boy description and the vulnerabiliy of the little boy in a grown man. Love you and your writing.

  13. Christian Allman

    Once again, Darrelyn Saloom captures the essence of an event, with passion, clarity and an unerring eye for detail. Ms. Saloom, for example, deftly sets us up for a jolting attitude reversal when she describes Goolrick’s somehwat nerdy physical appearance, then unleashes a heart breakingly beautiful summary of his prose. Ms. Saloom is surely an emerging writer with impressive narrative gifts and that rare ability to make her subjects worth caring about.

  14. Darrelyn Saloom

    Neil, Thank you for putting together such a remarkable conference. To say Goolrick’s reading was the best you’ve ever heard in Oxford (there are probably more author readings in the small town of Oxford, Mississippi, than any major city in the U.S.) is confirmation of what I felt at the time. I’ll never forget it or the enjoyment of getting to know you and Goolrick who are both kind and generous with advice on writing and publishing. Continued success with A Sanctuary of Outcasts, another memoir I’ve recommended on this site.

    Also, thanks Jerome, Erika, Jenn, and Neil White for taking the time to leave a comment.

  15. Neil White


    Thanks for writing this series. Part IV reminded me of Robbie Goolrick’s magical reading. The best I’ve ever heard in Oxford.


    Neil White
    Author, In the Sanctuary of Outasts
    Co-director, Oxford CNF Conference

  16. Jenn


    I got emotional just reading it. Thank you for sharing his powerful words & all the stories in this series.

    I ponder the same question. I’m soaking up his words & realizing…the very bad things I’ve endured compel me to write & saturate my words.

    It’s nice he was able to read from his memoir after three years. I hope it continues to heal him. I have loved every book you’ve recommended & I’m adding it to my to-read list.

    Thank you!

  17. Jerome Espinosa Baladad


    I got curious and have found this posting very interesting! I still have to read the 3 other parts 😀 Thank you for sharing this – it’s always fascinating to read about other writers’ lives & how they go about with their daily lives. Writers have to lead interesting lives to be able to write really good stories — it couldn’t be just mere imagination. I prefer ‘Creative nonfiction writing’ over other genres — as they say ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ 😀

    All the best,


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