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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Faulkner’s Niece Dean Faulkner Wells, 75, Dies

Dean Faulkner Wells, the last living link to author William Faulkner, died Wednesday.

The 75-year-old niece of Faulkner, a gifted author and editor herself, had been taken to the hospital a few days ago with a collapsed lung. On Wednesday, she was taken off life support.

Visitation is 5-8 p.m. today at Wells’ Oxford home. Graveside service is 10 a.m. Friday at St. Peters’ cemetery in Oxford.

News of her death “just broke my heart,” said David Sansing, history professor emeritus at the University of Mississippi. “She and her husband, Larry, are such sweet and wonderful people, linked to that golden age of Oxford.”

Earlier this year she released Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners in Mississippi, about growing up with “Pappy,” her name for her famous uncle.

She wrote, “The best and worst thing that could have happened to me took place on November 10, 1935, four months before I was born, when my father, a barnstorming pilot, was killed in a plane crash at the age of twenty-eight. The best, because it placed me at the center of the Faulkner family; the worst, because I would never know my father.”

Her uncle became her legal guardian and later paid for her education and wedding.

In March, Wells held a book signing at the Lyric Theatre, which had once hosted the world premiere of the 1949 Hollywood film based on Faulkner’s book, Intruder in the Dust.

Wells’ signing was standing room only, Sansing said. “Everybody realized this was a chance to link up with William Faulkner and that bygone age. It was such a wonderful occasion.”

Wells and her husband had regularly attended football games at the University of Mississippi, sitting in the south end zone with author Willie Morris, visiting writers and others.

In recent years, Wells had suffered a stroke and had been in declining health, but she still made it to a few ball games, Sansing said.

Steve Yates, assistant director at University Press of Mississippi, worked with Wells on the new Great American Writers’ Cookbook.

“She was a very, very hardworking editor and was tremendously plugged into who the new and up and coming writers were,” he said. “Dean knew the terrain and was a very smart editor for the book.”

For decades, she and her husband, Larry, ran the Yoknapatawpha Press.

She wasn’t without a sense of humor. She once edited a book titled, The Best of Bad Faulkner.

Wells visited author Tom Franklin and his family recently.

“She was sitting at the table, telling stories,” he said. “I’m so happy she finally wrote that book. What a gift she gave everybody.”

Author Hunter Cole, who knew the Wellses for 40 years, also was saddened by the news.

He said the book enables “all who knew and loved her to be forever connected with her voice and her presence. We’re blessed she wrote it.”

She is the last of that generation that knew Faulkner, he said. “When Willie Morris went, I thought the world would end, and now Dean is gone.”

from by Jerry Mitchell