By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Some 100 volunteers began reading “The Reivers” at 6:30 Friday morning on the east porch of Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home.
The reading of the Nobel laureate’s last novel marked the 50th anniversary of his death and was intended, said Faulkner Remembrance Day coordinator Jay Watson, as “a celebration of Faulkner and a celebration of reading and literacy in our community … with one of Faulkner’s gentlest and funniest tales.” The day ended with the screening at the Lyric Theatre of the novel’s film adaptation.
According to the University of Mississippi’s “William Faulkner on the Web” online resource, “The Reivers is a comic novel that tells of three unlikely car thieves from rural Mississippi – 11-year-old Lucius ‘Loosh’ Priest; a hapless worker for Loosh’s grandfather, Boon Hogganbeck; and the family’s black coachman, Ned McCaslin. When they steal Loosh’s grandfather’s car to go on a joyride to Memphis, they embark upon a picaresque adventure involving horse smuggling, sheriff’s deputies, jail and Miss Reba’s brothel.” The novel, dedicated to Faulkner’s grandchildren, won him a second Pulitzer for fiction.
Friday’s events were designed for the general public but also attracted the more scholarly crowd that will populate the 39th annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference next week. Gene Hays was one of the Oxonians who read in five-minute segments.
“I’m a fan of Faulkner’s, and I’ve authored five books myself, so I think this is a good opportunity to be a part of something that’s historical and something that pays tribute to William Faulkner,” said Hays, whose books cover topics from the military to ministry.
Judy Bello, a lawyer-turned-English teacher from Virginia, was at Rowan Oak when the reading began and will attend the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference for the first time.
“I’m still a rabid Faulkner fan, so I’m gallivanting down here to fulfill one of my dreams,” she said.
So how did Bello become so rabid?
“I’m a reader,” she said. “Having been born in Virginia, raised in Georgia and gone to school at the University of North Carolina, I’m a Southerner, and Faulkner’s part of our most wondrous Southern heritage.”
Leadership Lafayette used the day to unveil artworks in Faulkner Alley – from photos, both Faulkner-era and modern, to stained glass renderings of flora named in Faulkner’s works – to make it more inviting and less subject to misuse.
More than 120 people packed the Lafayette County Courthouse to hear about Faulkner’s relevance in the 21st century. Randall Kenan of the University of North Carolina, a former writer-in-residence at Ole Miss, said Faulkner embodies Modernist literature.
“Modernism is … in three words, ‘Sound and Fury,’” he said, quoting Faulkner quoting Shakespeare. “Faulkner is the perfect example of how the tension between history and feeling and relevance becomes art.”
Philip Weinstein of Swarthmore College noted that Faulkner is difficult to read because he refused to simplify the inherently complex.
“Faulkner was drawn to intractable human dilemmas that it took several human perspectives to explain,” Weinstein said. “He wanted the cascading repercussions. … It was the culture’s travails that he was after.”