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William Faulkner  

Born in 1897, William Faulkner is one of America's most important twentieth-century writers. While born and raised in the South, his themes are universal.
Last Updated: Mar 15, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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William Faulkner


Brief overview

William C. Faulkner  ( originally Falkner) was born in New Albany, Mississippi in 1897 to an old, genteel Southern family.  His family history would play a major role in his fiction. His great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner was a notable character who served in the Confederate Army, wrote a popular novel and was shot dead in the street by a former business partner.  The family's past and the past of the South were themes Faulkner would use in his novels and many short stories.  Faulkner, by his own admission, did not receive a good formal education.  He dropped out of high school and the University of Mississippi.  He worked many jobs to support his family while writing.  He wrote screenplays in Hollywood to help support his family. Despite these diversions, he wrote many short stories and intricate, complex novels.  He wrote to a friend near the end of his life that he never really knew the source of his gift, in fact he was amazed by it.

He started out as a poet, but was convinced by friends to write stories of his native South.  His apprecticeship was long and difficult.  Finally in 1928 he decided to write for himself and not worry about what others thought.  The result was "The Sound and the Fury" a book that established his reputation among other writers and critics.  "As I Lay Dying" was written while he had a night job at a powerhouse.  His output of short stories and novels continued thoughtout the years culminating  with "The Reivers" in 1962, a book which appeared only a month before his death. . Given his family responsibilities, this creative output  was a remarkable achievement.  Some of his work was shocking in its violence  ( "Sanctuary" for example).  His work are not "easy" reads.  He employed complex, long sentences and other technical literary devices.  The reader can easily get lost and confused.  But the effort is worth it.  He created a fictional county in Mississippi called Yoknapatawpha and populated it with colorful characters.

For years Faulkner was misunderstood and his work not popular.  Some accused him of immorality.  That attitude changed when he won the Nobel Prize in 1949.  His acceptance speech changed opinions.   He spoke of his concern for "the old verities and truths of the heart."  He believed it was the writer's duty and privilege "to help man by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.  The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars, to help him endure and prevail."  Faulkner is without a doubt one of America's most important writers.  He died in 1962 in his beloved South.

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