FULL STORY — Several events are being planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. A free screening of “The Reivers,” lectures and other activities will take place on July 6.
“Until he’s buried, he belongs to the family. After that, he belongs to the world.” — message from William Faulkner’s family to the media shortly after Faulkner died on July 6, 1962
Events set to mark 50th anniversary of writer’s death
By Jonathan Scott
For half a century now, the private William Faulkner has belonged to the world.
The life and work of this Nobel-prize winning writer have been studied and scrutinized, probed and appraised, inspected and dissected, analyzed and examined by academics and scholars from around the world nearly constantly since he died on July 6, 1962.
Now it’s our turn.
This summer in Oxford, the community is using the 50-year anniversary of Faulkner’s death as an opportunity to remember and honor the life and work of its most celebrated resident.
After all, Faulkner’s life and work will forever be entwined with Oxford.
In September of 1902, just before he turned 5 years old, Faulkner and his family moved to Oxford, so it was here where he grew up. He raised his own family here. And ultimately, it was here where he died (or, actually, about 45 miles away in Byhalia) and where he is buried.
It was in Oxford where he first put pencil to paper, and where he went on to write the vast majority of his work.
The fictionalized world of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County that he created, as well as the characters he conjured to live in this world, were, in large part, Faulkner’s literary reflection of Oxford, Lafayette County and the surrounding areas, as well as those who resided in this region. These were the places and people he knew best.
Faulkner’s connection to the community made it all the more appropriate when, just 12 years after he died, the Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference was launched by the University of Mississippi to study and discuss Faulkner’s life and work.
While many of the previous conferences have focused on some of the more esoteric aspects of Faulkner, such as “Faulkner and Postmodernism” or “Faulkner and Ideology,” this year the 39th annual conference will bring writers, teachers, scholars and fans to Ole Miss and Oxford for a more general reflection on the writer’s life and work with its theme, “Fifty Years After Faulkner.”
For life-long scholars and first-time readers of Faulkner, the 50th anniversary of the writer’s death is an “important milestone,” said Jay Watson, Howry professor of Faulkner studies and professor of English at UM, as well as the director of the Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference.
“A writer’s death is always significant, for biographers and literary critics especially, because it gives us a complete shape for his life and career, and thus a more complete understanding of his achievement,” Watson said in an email to The EAGLE. “In Faulkner’s case, we’ve now had a half-century to think about that overall pattern, and to go deeper into it. So it seems appropriate to pause this summer and reflect on what we’ve learned, and what we need to think more about going forward from here.”
The organizers of this year’s Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference have moved the five-day symposium to early July this year so it will begin on July 7, the day after the official anniversary of the writer’s death. This will allow conference attendees to enjoy the other events being planned for Friday, July 6, for Faulkner aficionados, especially those who live in the Oxford area.
On July 6, “A William Faulkner Remembrance” will be held to bring the community together to honor and remember the writer’s legacy.
One particular work of Faulkner’s that will be featured prominently in the day’s festivities is “The Reivers.”
“We’re building the remembrance day around ‘The Reivers’ in part because the novel is celebrating a 50th anniversary of its own,” Watson said. “It was Faulkner’s final novel, published in the last month of his life, and it is written with a kind of valedictory accent, dedicated to his grandchildren and narrated as a grandfatherly reminiscence about a turn-of-the-century childhood in north Mississippi.”
The day will begin with a marathon reading of “The Reivers” at Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. Starting at 6:30 a.m., volunteer participants will take turns reading short sections of the novel aloud.
“Reading it together, as a communal event, seems very true to the spirit of this novel,” Watson said.
The reading is expected to take several hours and those who want to participate can start signing up now for a time to read some of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
“Any EAGLE readers who might want to participate in the marathon reading of ‘The Reivers’ on the Faulkner remembrance day should send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org and the marathon coordinator will be in touch with further details,” Watson said.
After the reading, the remembrance day will continue in the second-floor courtroom of the Lafayette County Courthouse at 4:15 p.m. for two keynote addresses. One address will be given by Faulkner scholar Philip Weinstein, who will talk about the significance of Faulkner’s life and career. The second address will be given by writer Randall Kenan, who will discuss Faulkner’s legacy from the literary artist’s point of view.
The day of remembrance will conclude at 8 p.m. with a screening of the 1969 film adaptation of “The Reivers” at The Lyric.
Appropriately, the movie, which features performances by Steve McQueen, Rupert Crosse and Will Greer, will be screened in the same theater in Oxford that in 1933 hosted the local premiere of “Today We Live,” the first film adapted from a Faulkner work, and the 1949 international premier of the movie based on a Faulkner work that was filmed in Oxford, “Intruder in the Dust.”
All events associated with the July 6 remembrance will be free to members of the local community. This remembrance of Faulkner, the world’s most renown Oxonian, wouldn’t be complete without the participation of his neighbors.
A recent article in “The Southern Register,” written by Watson, about the upcoming remembrance noted: “The organizers and sponsors seek to create an event that will bring together Faulkner lovers, readers young and old, families, educators and students and other citizens from the town, county, university, state and beyond to recognize and celebrate Faulkner’s extraordinary life and work, his ties to the LOU community, and his formative contributions to the cultural life of the area.” (March 23, 2012, Page 1A)