Faulkner at Virginia: Prophet and Poet
In February 1957, when he arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia, to occupy his position as the University of Virginia’s first Writer-in-Residence, William Faulkner was 59 years old. He had already published sixteen novels, five volumes of short stories and a dozen other books, but had only recently begun to be known as the country’s greatest living novelist. In 1949 he became just the fourth American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and earlier in the same year the American Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded him the Howells Medal for Fiction. In the next five years he also received two National Book Awards (1951, 1955) and a Pulitzer Prize (1955).
The University of Virginia has just published an online audio archive of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s two-year term as writer-in-residence at Virginia during the late 1950s. In the recordings, Faulkner talks about his books, his career and events of the day. The entire archive of Faulkner’s material can be accessed here.
A Word to Virginians
Faulkner was not afraid to challenge his audiences at the University of Virginia, as became clear when he decided to begin his second Spring semester in “Residence” by delivering “A Word to Virginians,” a nine-minute speech urging them to help solve rather than exacerbate the growing crisis over court-ordered integration in the Jim Crow South. To 21st century listeners, his exhortations may sound more like temporizings, but at the time they were controversial, and to some in his immediate audience, as you can hear for yourself, unacceptable:
William Faulkner: A Word to Virginians
A Word to Young Writers
In his talk entitled A Word to Young Writers, Faulkner stated, “I have not read all the work of this present generation of writing. I have not had time yet. So I must speak only of the ones I do know. I am thinking now of what I rate the best one, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, perhaps because this one expresses so completely what I have tried to say. A youth, father to what will—must—someday be a man, more intelligent than some and more sensitive than most, who—he would not even have called it by instinct because he did not know he possessed it because God perhaps had put it there, loved man and wished to be a part of mankind, humanity, who tried to join the human race and failed. To me, his tragedy was not that he was, as he perhaps thought, not tough enough or brave enough or deserving enough to be accepted into humanity. His tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there. There was nothing for him to do save buzz, frantic and inviolate, inside the glass wall of his tumbler, until he either gave up or was himself, by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed.”
William Faulkner: A Word to Young Writers
The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner: A Reading of The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner at the University of Virginia
William Faulkner: Prophet and Poet
William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Speech (1950)
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