Annual event includes biographers and friends of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Richard Wright
July 12, 2021 By Edwin B. Smith
Renowned Mississippi authors William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Richard Wright are the focus of the University of Mississippi‘s 47th annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, being conducted virtually July 18-21.
Focusing on the theme “Faulkner, Welty, Wright: A Mississippi Confluence,” the virtual international conference includes four days of lectures, panels and other presentations. All keynote presentations, panels, film screenings and teaching sessions will be held as Zoom meetings or webinars.
“For the first time in the 47-year history of the Faulkner conference, we’re moving the event off its single-author footing in order to take on the work of two other giants of 20th century Mississippi literature,” said Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies and conference coordinator. “We think the possibilities for comparative perspectives on the work of the three authors are really exciting. They represent an entirely new direction for this conference.”
Keynote speakers and topics for the conference include:
- Susan V. Donaldson, professor emerita at William and Mary University, who will speak on “the politics of invisibility” as it informs the three writers’ engagements with Jim Crow segregation in the South
- Suzanne Marrs, professor emerita at Millsaps College, who will reflect on her professional and personal relationships with Eudora Welty as the author’s friend and biographer
- Jerry W. Ward Jr., professor emeritus at Dillard University, who will discuss what he calls “the tragicomedy of Mississippi’s histories” in novels by Faulkner and Wright, and a pair of short stories by Welty
- Library lecturer Carl Rollyson, professor emeritus at Baruch College, City University of New York, who will give a “biography” of his own recent two-volume biography of Faulkner, recounting some of the formative figures and scenes that led to the making of the work
- Malcolm Wright, grandson of Richard Wright, who will lead a screening and discussion of the 1976 film adaptation of his grandfather’s short story “The Man Who Was Almost A Man”
This year also marks the inaugural Ann J. Abadie Lecture in Southern Studies at the conference. This lecture series is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and honors its longtime associate director, Ann Abadie, who was also a founding figure of the Faulkner conference and a co-editor of dozens of the volumes of conference proceedings published by the University Press of Mississippi.
“Our first Abadie lecturer is the distinguished poet Natasha Trethewey, a Mississippi native and eminent writer who is supremely qualified to speak about the great trio of Mississippi writers who preceded her,” Watson said. “Professor Trethewey will read from her poetry and offer some remarks on the role that Faulkner, Welty and Wright have played in her life and work.”
Watson said he hopes to deepen understanding of Faulkner’s work by placing it in the context of Mississippi literature itself, especially as represented by the two other major figures from the state’s literary history whose careers overlapped with Faulkner’s own.
“Bringing the three together will give us a more prismatic view of Mississippi’s and the South’s – and the nation’s – history, society and culture than we could get from any of the three writers alone,” he said. “By summoning Welty and Wright to help illuminate Faulkner, we’ll also, of course, at the same time, be using Faulkner to illuminate Welty and Wright, and the latter two writers to illuminate each other.”
Registration for the four days of events is $100 per person and $50 for students. It’s also possible to register for a single day of the conference, also for $50. Conference registrants are encouraged to upgrade to the latest version of Zoom software before the conference begins.