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Posted June 6, 2010


Most writers are familiar with William Faulkner, a prolific southern writer who wrote hypnotic sentences that were lengthy and sometimes had to be reread to understand the gist of what the writer was trying to convey.

I was once in Square Books in Oxford, Misissippi - the town where Faulkner lived - and asked a librarian to read the first couple of pages of the The Unvanquished and tell me what it said. Of course, I'd already read the book but was wondering if I was the only one to have to read the beginning at least three times before I could decipher what the man was trying to get across. The lady couldn't understand it any better than I could on the first or second read so I didn't feel quite so illiterate.

These days, Faulkner would have a difficult time getting published because most editors stop reading after the first few pages if there isn't an instant hook, and I was told not too long ago that most people these days read on a fifth grade level. Alas, Tweeting and Twittering isn't helping the next generation with their use of gargantuan words.

But I couldn't help but love Faulkner's work though he is another tragic figure who was involved in multiple affairs and hard drinking that weakened his mental functioning. A man who stood 5'5" he once confessed, "When I have one martini I feel bigger, wiser, taller. When I have a second I feel superlative. After that there's no holding me."

He sometimes confused his fiction with his nonfiction. Because of his height, he was rejected from the army and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and then later served in the RAF in World War I, but did not see any action. He did, however, make his first solo flight after the war was over and told that he'd been shot down in France. Perhaps he suffered from wishful heroic thinking or had been punishing the martinis. At any rate, he could tell a good story and some say fiction is no more than a good lie.

As writers, it's been said we must read 1,000 books before we can write the first. Therefore, no matter what genre we're trying to write, it helps to study other genres with the hope that one day, we'll find our voice.

Flannery O'Connor, another southern writer who was greatly esteemed said, "The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down."

After reading some of Faulkner's work, visiting Rowan Oak - his home - was on my bucket list when dropping off a daughter for her first year at Ole Miss. I wasn't disappointed. The house was much as he left it before he died from a heart attack and injuries caused by a horse fall. The notes and scribblings from his last novel were still on his study wall. (Perhaps from too many martinis and not being able to find 3 x 5 cards on which to write.) The horse barn was still standing along with other outbuildings. As I walked around the grounds hoping the genius would somehow manifest itself and rub off on yours truly, I caught movement behind the house.

A bunny descended from earlier Faulkner generation bunnies ambled by and paused, almost as though he was a docent ready to tell me about the times his great-great- great grandbunny used to nibble grass as Faulkner typed away in the side yard on sunny days.

Later, one Faulkner quote I found humorous albeit telling and sad was this: "The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies."

When it came to writing, he was a brilliant man and Pulitzer Prize winner for two novels, A Fable and The Reivers. Nevertheless, his horse wasn't that fond of him or so it would seem - perhaps because of the way he treated numerous old ladies, God forbid he robbed his mother- and Faulkner died at the young age of sixty-four, a tragic figure not unlike so many of his novels' characters.

May he rest in peace and may we learn from his triumphs and mistakes.

check out this movie a student made of William Faulkner's life


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