Oxford hosts inaugural Noir at the Bar

Posted on Feb 5 2014 - 7:53am by Virginia England

Courtesy of William Boyle

Tonight, Oxford will host its first Noir at the Bar. Starting at 9 p.m., award-winning writers will read gripping excerpts from their best noir tales to the crowds at Proud Larry’s.

Noir crime fiction uses gritty realism to tell dramatic tales of deceitful, self-destructive characters in bleak, corrupt settings. The lineup of writers includes: Megan Abbott, Ace Atkins, Chris Offutt, Tom Franklin, Jack Pendarvis, Derrick Harriell, Jedidiah Ayres, William Boyle and Tyler Keith.

Noir at the Bar has been held in cities such as New York, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver and Austin. William Boyle, author of “Gravesend” and adjunct instructor at The University of Mississippi, saw an opportunity to bring the event to Oxford because of the large amount of writers in the area.

“I wanted to do it ever since I got here,” said Boyle, who first came to Ole Miss in 2011 to get his Master of Fine Arts in fiction.

“Being around so many writers who I admire so much and who fit into the noir world in some way, I knew I wanted to make this happen.”

When Megan Abbott became the 2013-14 Grisham Writer-in-Residence, Boyle knew it was the perfect moment for the event.

Abbott plans to read an excerpt from her latest novel, “The Fever,” which will be released in June.

“There is something so invigorating about these events when you get to share your work,” Abbott said. “Especially in this case for me with something that I haven’t read before. It’s sort of a relief from being stuck in your head all day.”

Though she grew up in the Midwest and later lived in New York City, Abbott was always drawn to the mysterious feeling surrounding Mississippi.

“(Mississippi) has a complicated history and literary tradition,” she said. “Everyone has a story and everyone is a natural storyteller. I’ll run into people at the gas station and they will tell me this elaborate family history and dramatic tale.”

Oxford has been home to William Faulkner, Larry Brown and Barry Hannah, all writers who have connections to noir, making it the perfect place for Noir at the Bar.

“Faulkner wrote a couple of books that could be considered straight noir, and he wrote the screenplay for ‘The Big Sleep,’” Boyle said. “Barry Hannah wrote a great essay on noir and taught classes on noir.”

Often, places with troubled history create more thoughtful people, according to Tom Franklin, writer and Ole Miss English professor.

“The state just generates writers,” Franklin said. “I’ve been doing some writing workshops at Ole Miss, and every time someone shocks me with how talented they are. I think out of the trouble come these renaissances.”

Franklin is currently editing “Mississippi Noir,” a book that will feature stories written by many of the writers reading Wednesday night.

“It’s a community event that brings the community of writers together,” Franklin said. “It will be a fun celebration of the written word and the word written with a slant of noir to it.”

Coupled with the perfect setting and more than an adequate number of guests, the inaugural Noir at the Bar is sure to become a staple of the Oxford literary scene.

 –Virginia England