In the 1970s and 1980s, Sally Wolff and Floyd C. Watkins, both of Emory University, took students of southern literature to Lafayette County, Mississippi, to explore the region where William Faulkner lived. They visited Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi; trekked around the countryside; and met people who were the prototypes for some of his characters. During these excursions, they discovered firsthand how profoundly Faulkner’s family, community, and region imprinted themselves on his imagination and then both shaped and enriched his work.
Their primary guide was Jimmy Faulkner, who was once described by his famous uncle as “the only person who likes me for what I am.” Like his uncle, Jimmy is a born storyteller, and his recollections provide profound as well as intimate details about Faulkner as author, father, member of the unusual Faulkner clan, and resident of the model for what may be the most famous county in American literature.
In these interviews, and in the forty-three splendid black-and-white photographs that accompany them, we move through Faulkner’s home territory and encounter the sources of his sense of place and its past: antebellum Rowan Oak, with its scuppernong vines and outside kitchen; old plantation homes and dogtrot houses; narrow one-lane bridges and creeks with Indian names; country churches and cemeteries. Jimmy’s comments often link specific sites with particular episodes or settings in Faulkner’s works, and his humorous stories sometimes mingle fact with fiction.
Two colorful local personalities who knew Faulkner—Pearle Galloway, proprietor of a general store near Oxford for over thirty years, and Motee Daniel, owner of various enterprises, including a roadhouse, a general store, and a bootlegging operation—also tell tales about him. Galloway and Daniel provide, in turn, fascinating glimpses of the kind of people who intrigued Faulkner and about whom he wrote.
While his work was most certainly influenced by his surroundings, Faulkner, through his stories and novels, likewise transformed the memories, perceptions, and interpretations of his family, his community, and his readers. Talking About William Faulkner deepens our knowledge of Faulkner’s everyday life and our understanding of the world in which he lived and of which he wrote.
Sally Wolff is senior editor at the Emory Clinic and teaches "Literature and Medicine" in the Emory University School of Medicine. She also served as assistant vice president and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University, where she taught for over thirty years in the Department of English. She is the author of Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Plantation Diary and Talking about William Faulkner, and co-editor of Southern Mothers: Fact and Fiction in Southern Women’s Writing, and Where Courageous Inquiry Leads: The Emerging Life of Emory University.
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