William Cuthbert Faulkner (September 25, 1897 - July 6, 1962) was a novelist from the Southern United States. Though his works are sometimes challenging or even difficult, he is generally regarded as one of America’s most important fiction writers.
William Faulkner wrote works of psychological drama and emotional depth, typically with long serpentine prose and high, meticulously-chosen diction. Like most prolific authors, he suffered the envy and scorn of others, and was considered to be the stylistic rival to Ernest Hemingway (his long sentences and ornate verbiage contrasted to Hemingway’s short, ‘minimalist’ style).
He is perhaps also considered to be the only true American Modernist prose fiction writer of the 1930s, following in experimental tradition European writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust, and known for using groundbreaking literary devices such as stream of consciousness, multiple narrations or points of view, and time-shifts within narrative.
Faulkner was born William Falkner (no “U") in New Albany, Mississippi, and raised in and heavily influenced by that state, as well as the general ambience of the South. His great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, was an important figure in the history of northern Mississippi.
He served as an colonel in the Confederate Army, founded a railroad, and gave his name to the town of Falkner in nearby Tippah County. Perhaps most importantly, he wrote several novels and other works, establishing a literary tradition in the family. Eventually, Colonel Falkner was the model for Colonel John Sartoris in his great-grandson’s writing.
It is understandable that the younger Falkner was influenced by, and drew on, the history of his family and the region. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of Blacks and Whites, his keen characterization of usual Southern characters and his timeless themes, one of them being that fiercely intelligent people dwelled behind the facade of good old boys and simpletons. An early editor misspelled Falkner’s name as “Faulkner", and the author decided to keep the spelling.
Faulkner’s most celebrated novels include The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), The Unvanquished (1938), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), which are usually considered masterpieces. Faulkner was a prolific writer of short stories: his first short story collection, These 13 (1931), includes many of his most acclaimed (and most frequently anthologized) stories, including “A Rose for Emily ,” “Red Leaves ,” “That Evening Sun ,” and “Dry September .”
During the 1930s, in an effort to make money, Faulkner crafted Sanctuary, a sensationalist “pulp fiction"-styled novel. (first published in 1931). Its themes of evil and corruption (bearing Southern Gothic tones), resonate to this day. A sequel to the book, Requiem for a Nun , is the only play that he has published. It involves an introduction that is actually one sentence that spans for a couple pages. He received a Pulitzer Prize for A Fable , and won a National Book Award (posthumously) for his Collected Stories.
Faulkner was also an acclaimed writer of mysteries, publishing a collection of crime fiction, Knight’s Gambit, that featured Gavin Stevens (who also appeared in Light in August and Go Down, Moses), an attorney, wise to the ways of folk living in Yoknapatawpha County. He set many of his short stories and novels in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on–and nearly identical to in terms of geography–Lafayette County, of which his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi is the county seat; Yoknapatawpha was his very own “postage stamp” and it is considered to be one of the most monumetal fictional creations in the history of literature.
In his later years Faulkner moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter (producing scripts for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not–both directed by Howard Hawks). Faulkner started an affair with a secretary for Hawks, Meta Carpenter.
Faulkner was known rather infamously for his drinking problem as well, and throughout his life was known to be an alcoholic.
According to rumour, Faulkner’s alcoholism was particularly drastic after a major accomplishment, when he would go on prolonged binges. Normally during his bouts with drinking he would stay in bed and have various family members bring him his drinks and keep him company. An interesting anecdote describes Faulkner after his most important achievement, the winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, where he drank heavily in anticipation of his departure for Stockholm. His nephew had brought him a drink and began to talk about his triumphs in a recent football game, which took place on the same day Faulkner was told he had to sail for the prize ceremony. Despite his inebriation, Faulkner put two and two together, realized that a family member had intentionally lied to him about the true date of his Nobel Prize reception in order to ensure his sobriety at the event, and resumed to drink steadily until the actual date.
Once there, he delivered one of the greatest speeches any literature recipient had ever given. In it, he remarked “I decline to accept the end of man…Man will not only endure, but prevail…” Both events were fully in character. Faulkner donated his Nobel winnings, “to establish a fund to support and encourage new fiction writers", eventually resulting in the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Faulkner served as Writer-In-Residence at the University of Virginia from 1957 until his death in 1962.