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Dixon Hearne

Dixon Hearne is a Louisiana native (West Monroe). He ran away to college, bartended, clerked, and used a partial scholarship to get a B.A degree in English and History. He taught in Houston's inner city, moved to southern California for his M.A. and Ph.D., and taught at several universities along life's way. His first collection of short stories was nominated for a Hemingway/PEN award and received another award. He is the author of a textbook, a novella, four short story collections, and editor of several anthologies. His work appears widely in magazines and journals. He lives in Sterlington, Louisiana, where he tinkers words into prose and poetry -- ably assisted by Junebug, his incredible bichon.


“These moral stories resonate with the last vestiges of the Old South, making way for the new, including even the devastating challenges of Hurricane Katrina. His people may be poor and face dire odds, yet they seem to triumph with determination and an undeniable moral force from parishes around the state from Red Stick to Jackson to the Crescent City. You can almost hear the impromptu second line drums and brass in the New Orleans French Quarter and feel the spirit of the city’s festivals. In Dixon Hearne’s work, Louisiana is yet another gritty, beguiling character that Hearne sings to us with the resplendent force of a born balladeer.”

– Daren Dean, author of Far Beyond the Pale

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Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope

Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope by Dixon Hearne


I must first confess that I’m probably part of that book reading majority who doesn’t normally pick up a collection of short stories for my summer beach reading. I find myself leaning more toward the depth and breadth of a novel or a memoir and the other-worldliness that sort of immersion in a longer book can provide when one is seeking escape. But when I first encountered Dixon Hearne’s Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope (Walrus Publishing), I was immediately intrigued, not only by the allusion to one of Stevie Wonder’s greatest records, but by the Southern geography the title also alluded to, a geography with which I am quite familiar, and quite honestly, one with which I am deeply in love.

When I was in graduate school, I was also in love with the short stories of Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, and Flannery O’Connor, and opening up Dixon Hearne’s collection was a welcome reminder of what I admired so much in those wonderful Southern tales. Take the opening story, “Somewhere Deep Inside,” for example, in which two young boys learn a hard lesson about the potential dishonesty of grown-ups and the protagonist’s subsequent decision to not let that reality make him a bitter man: “From someplace deep inside, some deep vein of wisdom, he knows that if he threw that first rock [in response to the antagonist of the story], he would never stop.”

This story is followed by other, equally engaging, coming-of-age tales, all organized under a section header of the same name. The next two sections, “Resolutions” and “Turning Points” offer up their own stories featuring troubled characters who are all simply trying to find their way in a fallen world. But Hearne provides them all with glimpses of hope, a welcome reprieve from today’s mostly nihilistic and too-cleverly experimental short fiction (perhaps the reason why folks have mostly turned away from this once-engaging form in the first place). But Hearne promises to bring us all back into the fold with these traditionally-told Southern stories of “blues and hope.”

The final section, aptly titled “The Blues,” contains what are arguably this book’s strongest stories. We are introduced to Cheveldra, for example, the spunky narrator of “Don’t Try Me,” a first person narrative in which the narrator tells us that “I ain’t lookin’ for no trouble ‘tween now and eighteen. And if you get me into any, I’ll cut you, too.” One can’t help but think of Huck Finn here and the poetry that is inherent in colloquial speech like this, its cadences and familiar rhythms. And like Twain, Hearne is able to capture that magic of language effortlessly in these tales.

The concluding story, “Angels of Mercy,” is perhaps my favorite. It tells the story of Lazarus, who dreams of leaving the cotton fields in northern Mississippi to attend college with his girl, Marva Lee, whom he doesn’t know is pregnant with his child. Marva Lee doesn’t tell him because “fieldwork doesn’t set aside time for having babies.” But when near-tragedy and then real tragedy occur, Lazarus, like his namesake, “rises straight up in the night,” suggesting that there’s indeed hope that can be found in despair, a single beam of light in an otherwise dark cave. This is why readers come to good fiction, to see that light—and Hearne does not disappoint. His beam shines through each page.

As variegated and as beautiful as a Southern flower garden, Dixon Hearne’s Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope hits notes that range from tragic to comic to hopeful, all with a consistency in theme and tone that makes this collection as satisfying and engaging as any novel you’ll find on the shelf this summer.

In fact, the collection—much like the great music album to which its title alludes—has an overall musicality about it that makes readers feel as though they are in a smoky juke joint, dancing with abandon to the expertly hammered-out riffs on the worn ivories of a well-tuned piano. So pack this book in your beach bag this summer and get lost in its contents as the sand covers your toes and the waves crash offshore, salty and green. You won’t soon be sorry you did.

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