William Faulkner died 50 years ago today, but lives on through the University of Virginia Library’s digital archives and the work of English professor Stephen F. Railton.
Faulkner, who made Southern culture come alive in his novels and short stories about the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, was U.Va.’s first writer-in-residence in 1957 and ’58. His lectures were recorded on the most advanced technology of the time – reel-to-reel tapes that are part of U.Va.’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Hear “the sound and the fury” of Faulkner’s voice here.
Between February and June 1957, and February and May 1958, at 36 different public events, he gave two addresses, read a dozen times from eight of his works and answered more than 1,400 questions from audiences made up of various groups, ranging from U.Va. students and faculty to interested local citizens.
Railton, who specializes in American literature, headed the project to get Faulkner’s speeches digitized and made available to the public two years ago. He is currently working on another project, Digital Yoknapatawpha.
The Faulkner Collection also houses the major manuscripts and personal papers in the author’s possession at the time of his death in 1962. His daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers, deposited two portions of his personal library in Special Collections in July 1998 and October 2000.
By the 1950s, the author had won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was well known. From the audio recordings, a listener can sense “his desire at this point in his career to reach the people in his audiences,” Railton writes in the “Contexts” section of the digital archives.
“Throughout his time at U.Va., he was extremely generous in meeting the demands of his occasions as writer-in-residence. He invites audiences to ask him any kind of question,” said Railton, who will head to Oxford, Miss. – Faulkner’s hometown – for a conference on the author next week.
One of the best moments, according to Railton, comes in a May 12, 1958 session. ”In answer to a question about violence in modern literature, he ends up giving a very moving, very funny, very spontaneous version of that 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he predicted that man would not only endure, but prevail.”
Here’s a bit of what he said: “My belief is that the last sound on earth, when this earth is a red rock freezing, will be two folks building an airship and fussing about where they’re going next. (The audience laughs.) Man is all right. You can’t beat him. No, there’ll be three. The other one will be writing a book about it.”
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