Geography – both real and imaginary – is as prominent in William Faulkner’s novels and short stories as the Nobel Prize-winning author’s characters and plots. Moreover, that geography, as former curator Howard Bahr once said of Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak “is not a monument. It’s a house. A living thing.”
The complexities of space and place, borders impenetrable or porous, will be explored at the 38th annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference, scheduled July 17-21 at the University of Mississippi. The unexpected parallels of places and people whose cultural interactions overcome their spatial distances will also be examined during the event.
“The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Faulkner’s Geographies,’” said Jay Watson, Howry Chair of Faulkner Studies and professor of English. “The conference will explore questions of space in Faulkner’s life and work. This approach should be particularly illuminating, given Faulkner’s achievements as the creator of a fictional county that he once referred to as a ‘little postage stamp of native soil,’ and for which he actually provided a hand-drawn map in his 1936 novel, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’”
Besides Bahr, three other curators and assistant curators of Rowan Oak – spanning from 1980 to the present – will offer their unique perspectives on what is perhaps the most famous literary home in the United States.“Howard Bahr, Keith Fudge, Cynthia Shearer and William Griffith have each engaged a constant flow of interested visitors, ranging from members of the Faulkner family to students at every level, Faulkner scholars and internationally known writers,” said Donald Kartiganer, Howry Chair of Faulkner Studies emeritus and conference director. “In addition, they have participated in the maintenance and renovation of the house, always treading the fine line between keeping the original intact while making the improvements necessary to its survival.”
Scheduled presenters include Jose E. Limon of the University of Texas, who is also speaking at the conference for the first time; John Shelton Reed of the University of North Carolina, author of numerous works on Southern regional identity and culture; and Barbara Ladd of Emory University, who has written about Faulkner’s work in two books, “Nationalism and the Color Line in George W. Cable, Mark Twain and William Faulkner” and “Resisting History: Gender, Modernity and Authorship in William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty.”
Other first-time presenters include Scott Romine of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Valerie Loichot of Emory University and Harry Stecopoulus of the University of Iowa.
The schedule also features daylong tours of northeast Mississippi and a picnic at Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home.
“From scholars who have studied and analyzed his writing to casual readers who enjoy his content, people frequently find themselves even more interested in Faulkner after having visited his home and places he frequented,” Kartiganer said.
“Many people who come to the conference have come to the house before, so each year I try to keep something new on display especially for them,” said Griffith, the current Rowan Oak curator. “Everyone is generally in a very good mood and very happy to be there.”
Other program events are sessions on “Teaching Faulkner”; a discussion of “Collecting Faulkner”; an exhibition of Faulkner books, manuscripts, photographs and memorabilia at the John Davis Williams Library; and “Faulkner on the Fringe,” an “open mic” evening at Southside Gallery on the Oxford Square.