Literary Arts: Delta Blues

On Tuesday, May 18, writers Lynne Barrett and Les Standiford gave a joint reading at Books & Books in Coral Gables to celebrate the publication of Delta Blues, an anthology edited by Carolyn Haines with a foreword by Morgan Freeman. Delta Blues is “where crime fiction intertwines with the soul of the blues.”

LES STANDIFORD is the author of the critically acclaimed Last Train to Paradise, Meet You in Hell, and Washington Burning, as well as ten novels. Recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, he is director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami. On Tuesday, citing Janet Burroway and Eudora Welty, Les spoke about the power of place in narrative. “If the place where the story happens isn’t important, then it’s not a story worth telling.” Even though Les grew up in Southeastern Ohio, in a blue-collar mining town, a long way from the Mississippi in terms of miles, he’s always felt connected to the Delta. In Cambridge, he enjoyed listening to songs like Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes on WLAC, the voice of Nashville Life and Casualty. Les found it exotic to be entertained by disc Jockeys with names like John R. or the Hoss Man, and to listen to a kind of music that might as well “have been beaming in from Planet Pluto,” compared to what most of his schoolmates were listening to. Midnight Special is the theme song of his story, “Life and Casualty.”

LYNNE BARRETT was awarded the 1990 Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America for Best Mystery Short Story. Her story, “Beauty,” won the Best Short Story Award at the Moondance International Film Festival in 2001. She’s a professor of English at Florida International University. She explained how Newark, NJ (where she grew up) was “kind of a suburb of Mississippi in some ways,” as the Diaspora of the Mississippi went to the industrial city to work.  Some of the music Lynne heard in Newark had its source in the Delta and her story, “Blues for Veneece,“ digs into the Delta’s contested past. “I teach plot and the first step in creating a plot is a piece of ground. Every story takes place on a piece of ground and it’s often a contested piece of ground.” The Delta is valuable ground. Even when the Native Americans were still there, the villages, built on mounts, were surrounded by fields which were incredibly flat but also incredibly rich—and full of bones. This is the premise of “Blues for Veneece.”

Les Standiford and Lynne Barrett will take their Delta Blues roadshow to Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Friday night, 7 PM.