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The naked truth about a pretty good writer from Mississippi

My home state of Mississippi has produced an inordinate number of acclaimed writers, with William Faulkner being one of the most noteworthy. In the early 1950s, I was an undergraduate at Ole Miss. Of course, Faulkner lived in Oxford and it was quite common to see him around town. There are a lot of stories around about William Faulkner – and rightly so. Local folk called him “that crazy writer feller.” Some said he carried himself and acted like a Medieval Count, giving rise to the title “Count No Account.” Apparently, local business people had difficulty in collecting on the debts he had made. At times he sought alternate sources of income. Somehow he got himself appointed Postmaster of the University Post Office but swift and efficient mail delivery was not his top priority. He put a table in the back where he and a few friends would play cards and socialize. He attended to the mail when he had the time. Also, if an interesting magazine came in, he would keep it to read before placing it in the addressee’s box. Such actions cost him this job and permanently soured him on ever again being involved with a bureaucracy.

Sometime in the 1940s he took a job writing scripts in Hollywood. One weekend he was invited to go on an excursion to Catalina Island. Clark Gable was in the group. Gable was very handsome and a good actor, but not very strong in the intellect department. Of course, by this time Faulkner had published quite a body of work and when someone asked him about one of his books, Gable responded, “Oh, Mr. Faulkner, do you write?”

Faulkner hated Hollywood and scriptwriting, but most of all he hated being away from home. When he learned that some of his fellow writers were allowed to work from home, he asked to do so. Of course, his boss thought he meant from where he was living in Hollywood and granted his request. After a couple of weeks, his boss couldn’t seem to locate him and as a last resort, called Oxford to see if his family knew of his whereabouts. Faulkner answered the phone. To him “home” meant his “real” home. He did not go back west.

After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and making that wonderful acceptance speech, in which he spoke of the “indomitable spirit of man,” Faulkner was asked to teach a course on writing at the University. It was a standard three-hour course, three days a week for the semester. After a couple of weeks, his department head discovered he was no longer holding the class. When contacted about it, Faulkner replied, “I’ve told them all I know,” and refused to return to class. Many writers have a hard time telling other people how they do what they do so well.

A man who grew up in Faulkner’s neighborhood relates some interesting personal stories about him. He first met Faulkner when he, along with several other youngsters, was invited to a birthday party for Faulkner’s daughter. The writer greeted each guest and made sure he learned their names. After that when their paths crossed on the street, Faulkner always called them by name. He had a way of making kids feel special – like they were people, too.

On another occasion when he was about 13, he was home babysitting his young sister while his parents were out for the evening. In the midst of a violent rainstorm, the doorbell rang. He opened the front door to find Faulkner dripping wet in a trench coat and rain hat. His car sat at the curb with its lights on and engine running and with someone in the passenger seat. He refused to come in and “drip on your mother’s carpet.” When told that his parents were not at home, Faulkner asked him if he knew where his father kept his liquor. He did and at Faulkner’s request fetched a bottle of bourbon for him to borrow. He thanked him graciously and as he turned to go, the wind blew the trench coat aside revealing that Faulkner was wearing absolutely nothing underneath.

Yes, William Faulkner was an interesting man in many respects.

Posted on: 6/27/2013


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