ROWAN OAK CURATOR INSPIRED BY FAULKNER LEGACY
Author Cynthia Shearer is moved by a spirit, however it is not a haunting experience, but rather an inspirational one.
The curator of William Faulkner’s Oxford home, Rowan Oak, for three years, Shearer has been aware of the literary great’s presence through the completion of her first novel, “The Wonder Book of the Air.”
“I think he was always conscious about the ghosts that preceded him in the house, so I’m very conscious of his spirit,” she says, but adds that she doesn’t think the old home is haunted.
While Faulkner doesn’t haunt Shearer during the day at Rowan Oak, he has always been a ghost haunting her life.
“I read a lot of Faulkner when I was in my twenties and that’s what brought me here to Oxford.” After attending Valdosta State in Georgia, Shearer decided to follow her literary love and pursue her master’s degree in English at the University of Mississippi.
“I was kind of going through my Faulkner stage. I didn’t know beans about the university. I just wanted to be in his town.”
But Shearer did better than that. She landed a position at Rowan Oak where she has actually followed in the footsteps of her longtime inspirer.
Published in February, “The Wonder Book of the Air” has received favorable reviews and has the literary community expecting great things to come from the 40-year-old author. The book has also gained Shearer great respect in the university community of Oxford where will participate in a panel discussion and a reading at the Fourth Annual Conference for the Book.
But Shearer doesn’t find it even ironic that after coming to Oxford and spending time in Rowan Oak that she has published her first novel.
“I don’t see it as much as irony as an inevitable thing,” Shearer says. “There’s just something about this house that makes people think about something bigger than themselves.”
Daily roaming through the airy and historic halls of Rowan Oak and the whispering grounds, Shearer came to appreciate the stillness as well as Faulkner’s presence throughout Rowan Oak. Although Shearer had written most of the book before becoming the curator of Faulkner’s home, she would sit in the kitchen when rewriting and putting details in her novel.
“The quiet or just the feeling that someone else has sat in that room and tried to say something significant about America and the South,” she said was motivational.
Although Shearer says she has different views from that of Faulkner, she does admire the way he viewed himself as the spokesperson for mankind. “He felt responsible for everyone when he wrote. I think that that’s important and that’s why you should [write a book]. If you’re not prepared to be moral then you shouldn’t do it.”
Shearer’s strong sense of morality is depicted in “The Wonder Book of the Air.” The book painly portrays the sadness at the heart of one dysfunctional American family.
“It’s autobiographic in that it’s closely related to my family in Georgia,” she says. Shearer herself grew up in a dysfunctional home in the 1950s and 1960s before dysfunctional families were “cool.” In elementary school, Shearer remembers being the only girl in class whose parents were divorced.
Having been through a divorce, Shearer now understands the positions of her parents. And with her book, Shearer says she tried to put herself in their shoes.
Shearer said her father, who fought in World War II, always wanted her to write a book about his war experiences, and her mother would have loved for her to write her story as an abused wife. “But what I wanted to do,” Shearer says, “is get the whole picture in one book.” The way Shearer does that is by letting different narrators tell the story. “I really wanted for people to consider all viewpoints. There are different truths within one family.”
Since the book, Shearer feels she has changed and moved on. “The book does not have a lot of optimism in it and that bothers me,” she said adding that at the time she felt to get published she could not have a happy ending. For her next book, she hopes to move on to brighter things. “It doesn’t matter to me what is real. We ought to be able to imagine a better world and move toward it.”
Shearer, now happily married with an 8-year-old daughter, is now living the “better world” that was foreign to her growing up. And that is the one thing that will keep her from becoming like the ghost (Faulkner) who has influenced her.
“One thing I was very conscious of when I started this job was the amount of suffering [Faulkner’s] fame brought to his family and to himself. I want privacy,” she says. “I want to write just to figure the world out.”