A Magical Time

I stayed in the Red Shack Over Yonder, across the tracks from Shack Up Inn. It’s one of many authentic sharecropper shotgun shacks of Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale. The plantation still has a cotton gin and other farm outbuildings. It’s three miles from the legendary Crossroads, where Highway 61 meets Highway 49, where the muse is carried in the breeze across wide flat fields, over meandering bayous, and through the cotton, white and open on the vine.

This is a land of birth. Blues music came out of these fields, came from poor black workers and sharecroppers, from their spirituals and field hollers and ancestral rhythms—those people who lived in the real shotgun shacks of the last century or two, the shacks that dotted Highway 61 all the way down from Memphis.

I grew up down here in the Fifties and Sixties and remember far down deep in my soul riding in the back seat of my daddy’s Ford down that narrow straight two-lane 61, window rolled down, leaning my head out, letting my hair whip in the wind, and watching and listening to groups of fieldhands chanting and singing, clanking their hoes to the earth on the beat. It’s where the music came from.

And the spirit of it was birthed in me, enough of it anyway to hold that sound as a treasure, something significant, something that came out of suffering and hard times and unfairness, and that sound created out of the fertile Delta soil would rock and change the whole world.

Times have changed. There’s not a lot of cotton in the Delta anymore. And Highway 61 is four lanes. And the shotgun shacks have been revitalized.

The bottle tree outside the Shack Up Inn office is alive with purpose, catching light, its colors dancing in the sun, beckoning evil spirits inside the bottles, trapping them for eternity. Letting the muse stay free and unfettered. Letting the winds blow through this land with sound.

It was this spirit of new possibilities and dreams of new talents taking root on soft-blowing winds that brought a group of twenty to the plantation on the autumnal equinox: Creative Nonfiction at the Crossroads.

New people brought new sounds, stories to tell, gripping stories of loss, pride, illness, injustice, unfairness, and death. We shared, listened, learned the basics of telling true stories, inspired each other, and laughed, and drank wine and bourbon, and ate some Southern soul food, and sat on porches, and slept in shotgun shacks, and watched the sun rise over Delta cotton and a black country church, and wrote while the sun was rising. It doesn’t get any better than this.

And hopefully, this weekend was the hoe-beat to the earth that kicks us all into creative mode to do what we need to do. It was a magical time. They are our stories. It’s our time. Let’s make it happen.