CATEGORY: Lafayette County
HED: Faulkner folks learn the land, the man
By Errol Castens
OXFORD - Like much of his writing, William Faulkner remains a paradox 36 years after his death.
On the one hand, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author is a treasure to the entire literary world. On the other, he was shaped by his time and place.
Similarly, he gained a reputation as a recluse. Yet he treasured friendships, and his parties were famous.
Occasionally the parties were even infamous, as when Faulkner and his hunt breakfast guests rode on horseback, "high as a kite," around the Oxford square as church was letting out on a Sunday morning.
"Mother said some lady looked out the window and fainted," Patricia Young said.
Faulkner and America
Conferees at the 25th annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi have examined the man and his region, even as they also study his broader role in America.
Attendees representing 33 states and six foreign nations were treated this week to a treatise on Faulkner's humor.
"An index to the depth and appeal of Faulkner's humor is his characters' ability to make fun of themselves," said lecturer James Carothers, "as Faulkner made fun of himself."
Tuesday was devoted to tours of various north Mississippi locales that influenced Faulkner. Oxford, Ripley and Holly Springs are credited with shaping his fictional Jefferson.
New Albany, of course, is his birthplace, and Pontotoc's rich Chickasaw heritage provided historical background for some of the man's works. The Mississippi Delta was the scene of many of Faulkner's hunting trips, and Columbus adds its own elements to the Southern literary scene.
Faulkner the man
Wednesday featured, among other presentations, a question-and-answer session with four Oxonians who grew up knowing Faulkner.
"He was a person, for real," said Murray "Chooky" Falkner. (William Faulkner added the "u" to his surname; most of the family continues to spell it without a "u.")
"He was simply not a loner," said Patricia Young. "He was truly a loving, kind person. His friends adored him."
"He always had time for children - throwing rocks, telling stories," Will Lewis recalled.
Faulkner's ready availability was a curiosity to neighborhood youngsters.
"We really didn't understand what he did, because he didn't go to work," Mil' Murray Hopkins said.
Hopkins recalled trying to fill out an elementary school form that asked for her father's occupation. She asked Jill Faulkner, William's daughter and her best friend, how to spell "funeral director."
"Jill said, 'Let's just leave it blank. Pappy doesn't do anything,'" Hopkins recounted, laughing.
Even though Faulkner didn't drink nearly as much as people said he did, Chooky Falkner said the author's reputation as a drunkard was not completely baseless.
"He could go on a binge from time to time," Falkner said.
Likewise, the author's insistence on keeping his working life private gave rise to a reclusive reputation - despite the frequent parties and deep friendships he enjoyed.
"He never related his writing to even his friends," Young said.
"I doubt that he ever talked about writing with anyone in Oxford," Lewis added.
This year's Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference will conclude tomorrow with several more workshops and a party at the "Chooky" Falkner home.